Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New World A'Dawning

We’re almost there folks, the end of 2008 is around the corner, peeking at us from behind a veil.
Tomorrow I deliver a bunch of my pictures to an art show in Salisbury for an art show. Who knows, I might even sell some. Stranger things have happened. But that’s for next year. Tomorrow we toast to the ending of one of the nastier years on record. I know, I know, we need to look forward, and I am doing just that. Many have remarked at how The Shrub is walking away with nary even a nod to the troubled times. He’s done just fine thanks. He has even enjoyed himself. Huh! I wonder when?
Still, he will be gone soon. He’s really already gone from our national psyche. No one pays any attention to much of what he says. They/We are all looking to Obama for guidance and for intelligent leadership.
How to toast? Well, I recommend a traditional ending to this very untraditional year. What tradition? Well, yours, anything that suggests continuity within your own life and family. For us, we will celebrate, just the two of us, as we have done many times throughout our 53 years of marriage.
We will prepare some good food—clams sautéed in garlic butter and wine, Swedish meatballs, some shrimp, homemade sourdough bread. We will open some fine wine, and at midnight pop open a bottle of champagne. But before that, we will watch our traditional film – Casablanca—the most romantic film ever made. We will time the film, so that we can watch it as we graze on our splendid repast, and then, as the film ends, we will switch to Times Square. We will watch the craziness taking place there, in the Square, and we will, like the assembled throng, await the falling of the ball, signaling that the year has really come to a close.
At that moment, we will toast each other, and toast all of our loved ones., and toast the friends who have brushed our lives, but whom we rarely see. It’s good to know they were once part of our lives, and many remain so.
And, so we will move forward into the Brave New World of Tomorrow, with its fresh beginnings, and bright promise.
We’re ok. So are you.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hasten the New Year

The New Year approaches with a vengeance. But we should all be grateful to see 2008 disappear into the dust. What did we ever do to deserve such a nasty year? Were I religious, I would doubtless blame it all on God, but what a relentlessly malevolent God she would have to be to deliver such awfulness. An utterly disgusting political campaign, redeemed finally by the outcome—hey, we finally elected a decent, smart, honorable person. Wow! Who’da believed that? But the campaign that preceded the outcome must have set some records for ugliness. And I don’t even have to mention Barracuda Barbie.
Then the collapse of the world’s entire financial system, with cries from the geniuses that brought it on, of, “wow, we didn’t see that coming.” Really, you idiots didn’t see it coming? Wow. I guess all you CEOs, economists, stock brokers, commodity traders must really have shit for brains.
And now, to finish off the year, we have the traditional bombarding of Palestine by the Israelis, prompted of course by the Palestinians themselves via their constant rocket attacks. When, I wonder, will the Hamas idiots grasp the simple fact that Israelis don’t like having rockets fired at them. Now, they sit around whining about the fact that the Israeli air force killed a bunch of them. Makes you wonder when they will learn. You shoot at Israel; they shoot back, generally with much worse effects. The definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results.
And of course, we have these totally crazy people who are still walking into crowded places in Afghanistan and Iraq, with explosives strapped to their bodies, blowing themselves, and lots of others, to bits, still looking for their 71 virgins, I guess. (what do the women get, I wonder??).
Only 23 days left, until an intelligent life force takes over in Washington. The expectations grow daily.
Meanwhile we will just have to suck it in, and await the arrival of decency.
23 days . . . and counting . . .

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays

Hope vs. Gloom. That’s the challenge of this particular holiday season. Whether one should rejoice in our own good fortune—I do every day—or to seek yet more news of the growing economic calamity of the global financial meltdown.
Whenever I have sat down to write something, whether for my Blog, or for my weekly article for our local newspaper, now defunct, I had to decide which of my two sets of thoughts I had to try to convey. I’m perhaps known more for gloom and doom than for my sunny side. I was even castigated by readers of the Concord Standard for being too negative. My standard position on this issue has been, “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
George Bush has been such a complete disaster that it has been somewhat difficult to put on a smiley face and pretend that everything is really ok. It isn’t folks. It really isn’t. I sometimes wonder why someone as smart as Barack Obama was willing to put his brain to the test this way. Between the Islamists, who are perennially outraged at us, enough to persist in their attempts to wipe us from the face of the Earth, and the financial wizards Bush set free to pillage and plunder, I wonder how anyone can begin to recapture the magic of the holiday season.
Then, when we stopped at our daughter’s home this morning, Samantha, our granddaughter, wouldn’t let me leave without giving her a hug. She provided the needed spark of light—the warmth and essential reason for happiness in this season. It is really all about sharing love unconditionally. Whatever President Doofus does, or doesn’t do, my granddaughter still wants a hug. And so do I.
When asked about the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, President Doofus responded, “So what?” So, there is really no helping or pardoning him. We really must just move on, leaving him to whatever personal Hell is awaiting him in his billion dollar mansion in Dallas (27 days, folks). But we need to move on. We need to look ahead. Really, we need to look into the faces of our children and grandchildren, and see the love in their eyes. We need to smile at a stranger and wish them well.
Maybe next year will be difficult. Hopefully, we will be able to weather this perfect storm. But we need to remember that this really is the first day of the rest of our lives. We need to smile, just because there is still love in the air. Capture the love. Hold it close. It will help to guide us through this storm.
We must never forget that there are many people falling by the wayside because of our inept leadership. They need and mostly deserve our help. But we must not let that keep us from continuing on this strange and wonderful journey called life.
A joyous holiday to all of you out there who occasionally take the time to read my wandering prose.
Live in peace.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Career Planning for The Shrub

So, I guess The Shrub won’t have to bomb Iran as the climax to his career. Overseeing the collapse of the entire global financial system should prove adequate. I believe it is now down to under 30 days (29 but who’s counting?) before President Doofus returns to his billion dollar mansion in Dallas. It leaves me breathless actually, watching all this destruction. Iraq, New Orleans, the entire oversight structure of the Federal Government, and now the global financial system. I leave out Afghanistan, since they seem to have brought all this wrath down on themselves.
But it makes me wonder what the Doofus will do once he leaves office. Jimmy Carter, our finest ex-President, has been running around the nation and the globe building houses for poor people and trying to bring peace and stability to the world. Ronald Reagan ran around giving speeches for several million each. Bill Clinton set up a foundation in an attempt to shore up weak places and also bring some order in the world. Al Gore, the guy we actually elected President, has been trying to sound the alarm about the need to change our ways—again peace and stability to a future world.
So, what might we expect of President Doofus? He’s going to be hard pressed to emulate Reagan. I mean who in their right mind would pay this guy to give a speech? He’s illiterate in two languages. So, unless he speaks some extinct language we don’t know about, he is hard pressed to be entertaining.
Still, I can’t see him playing bridge with the other Dallas suburban multi-millionaires. Most of them are probably trying to figure out whether to sell their Hummer, their Rolls, or the family silver on E-Bay to be able to make the mortgage payments on their several mansions. Tough to be so rich and so broke at the same time.
Can’t see the Saudi’s inviting him to dinner. Remember Osama Bin Laden? He was. after all, a Saudi.
Maybe he could become a Somali pirate. Yeah, that’s it, the perfect after-the-fall career. I mean, he’s been kind of a global hit man, he and his comrade in arms, Dickie Bird Cheney. Yeah, a real pirate. That’s the job.
Wow. I ought to go into the post-career counseling business.
I wonder what ever happened to the Dickie Bird? Where is that spider hole, anyway?????

Friday, December 19, 2008

Life and Good Fortune

As I begin this, my 75th year, I am aware of good fortune, and the role that fortune--perhaps luck, or simply happenstance, plays in our lives. I have often thought back to that period growing up in New York City, in a family known more for its dysfunction than anything else. When my Mother decided, on her meager income, to save money during The War, and to use that money to buy a house in the suburbs--more like "the country"--our lives changed in unpredictable ways. For my brother, it meant packing up and leaving one of the city's premier high schools, Stuyvesant, and finishing his high schooling in a small town upstate, Spring Valley. For me, it meant shifting my life from the streets of New York City, to a fairly rural life in a community with a small lake, a small population, and relatively placid schools. I cannot know what my life would have been like had we stayed in midtown Manhattan. It might have been radically different.
I also remember sitting in our porch, thinking about college, looking wistfully at a catalog I had received from Stanford University, with pictures of palm trees and tiled roof buildings--exotica. I still remember having no doubt about college--none. Yet, we had no money. There was no money, yet my brother had gone off to work and college, paying his own way. I imagined I would do the same thing. Instead, my sister and her husband helped. But I think back, wondering what my life might have been had I decided that we could not afford college and gone instead to work, or perhaps into the service. Life would have been very different.
And then there's India. I was getting really tired of the Defence Industry, and traveling hither and yon to various military contractors and installations, working to make better systems to blow up the world. Then someone told me that we had won a contract to work in India on a USAID project. I thought for a few minutes, then made a call on a pay phone (remember those?) to my wife back in San Francisco (I was in San Bernadino at the time). I said, "Hey, honey, how'd you like to go live in India for a year?" She thought for a minute and replied, "Sure, hon, why not?" So off we went, on the adventure of a lifetime--one that still, to this day, amazes people, not least, us.
So, as we continue on our adventures--life is after all, a GRAND ADVENTURE--I am always aware of fortune and happenstance, and decisions made that change one's course in life. Some work better than others, but they are all part of the game of life. They weren't preordained. They were made by me, with a little help from my best friend--my wife of 53+ years.
Nice. Grand really.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Running for Old People

So, too soon we grow old, and too late we grow smart . . .
Ahhh . . . the days do grow shorter as we approach our elder years.
“Approach . . . what do you mean approach? You’re firmly in the grip of elder years.”
No, no, no. Haven’t you heard? I’m approaching 74. That’s the new 47.
“hahahahahahaha . . . yeah right. Face it, you’re an old geezer.”
No, really. I know I’m approaching 74, but I feel much younger.
“What, you feel 73 ½?”
No, I mean, I feel younger. I feel much as I did in my . . .hmmm . . . how do I feel? Fifty? Sixty? Not forty, surely. I don’t know. I just don’t feel 74. I know I can’t run 13 miles any longer, but still . . .
“What, you ran 13 miles once? On purpose?”
Yeah, I used to run every day, to escape mental fatigue during the Reagan years. I had fixed runs of 3, 6, and 13 miles. I could run mostly along the C&O Canal. I would run to cleanse my mind of Reagan crap.
“So, bubbaluh, what have you been doing during the last 8 years? Running like 50 miles a day to cleanse your mind of the Shrub?”
Well, that’s a problem. And it does relate to being older.
See, since I can’t run like I once did, we now walk, and do some weight exercises. It’s nice, but not like running. And the Shrub has been wearing us all out. He’s relentless. Every time you think he’s surely at the end of his tyranny, he finds some new way to be outrageous. Puts a strain on all of us. Tough to remain mentally healthy with him at the helm. It’s kind of like having a totally crazy man steering your cruise ship. You’re trying to enjoy yourself, and he keeps doing totally crazy things. I mean, who would have guessed running the economy into the ground, no below ground, right at the end? I thought maybe he might try to bomb Iran, or some other crazed act at the end. But overseeing the second Great Depression. Man, that took some forethought. He’s truly going out with a Big Bang.
“So, now you feel better?”
No, why would you think that?
“Well, since you can’t run any more, seeing as how you’re really old, I assume that you have adopted ranting as the backup alternative to running. See, if you continue to run your mouth, it’s kind of like marathon running. A new form of mental health, in these stressful times. Running for old people.”

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Science as Policy

Wow, what a change after the Doofus Administration.
Imagine, a Nobel Physics prize winner as head of the Energy Department. Wow!
Commenting on Obama's personnel selections, CAP's Director of Climate Strategy Daniel J. Weiss said, "After the anti-science Bush administration, this is like going to a Mensa meeting after eight years of being trapped in the Flat Earth Society."
Actually, the Flat Earth Society is a great way to characterize the Bush Administration. I mean, think Arabian Horse Association and FEMA head.
President Doofus apparently spent way too much time at college inhaling illegal substances, so he didn’t get to meet a lot of actual students, i.e. people attending college to learn something. So, he ended his academic career as ignorant as when he entered it. Now, we may actually get some intelligence in our top leadership positions. Intelligence . . . what a concept.
I keep thinking of the Peter Principle in connection with this current guy. Remember that principle?
The Peter Principle is the principle that "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence." While formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1968 book The Peter Principle, a humorous treatise which also introduced the "salutary science of Hierarchiology", "inadvertently founded" by Peter, the principle has real validity. It holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their "level of incompetence"), and there they remain. Peter's Corollary states that "in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his duties" and adds that "work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence".
Now really, doesn’t that explain the Bush Administration?
My theory is that Bush himself reached his level of incompetence as a Yale cheerleader. It was all downhill from there. How else to explain a life as filled with utter failure as his?
And now, he has less than 40 days left to screw up our Nation.
Whoooeeee! 40 days people.
We can do it!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Blackwater & Anarchy

I am reading the most recent newspaper article on Blackwater, this one about the trial of five Blackwater employees who are charged with the illegal killing of innocent civilians on a Baghdad street corner. Blackwater, if you recall is the US security firm headquartered in our very own North Carolina. For many millions (now over a billion?) of dollars in sole source contracts, Blackwater provides “security” to diplomats and other non-military officials who attempt to do business in the anarchic state of Iraq. I guess because Iraq is anarchic, largely lawless, Blackwater feels free to dispense its force at any time and in any place it chooses. Iraqi citizens are incensed, as well they might be.
Blackwater exists in Iraq mainly because we and other states choose to pretend that “normal business” can still be conducted in Iraq, so long as adequate security can be provided. Diplomats, commercial firms eager to do business, and others try to live and work in Iraq. They hire Blackwater to secure their workers. Blackwater provides this security by arming its employees perhaps better than our military, and by giving them a certain “freedom of action” to carry out its assigned mission.
Regardless of the outcome of this particular trial, I am left with this thought—why should we need to spend money on Blackwater? The logic seems to be something like this: Iraq is a highly dangerous place, between those nasty IED’s (improvised explosive devices) and the even simpler explosive vests worn by the faithful to blow up people, places and other onlookers. The place must resemble the trenches in France during WW I. Therefore, security services like Blackwater are necessary.
I would certainly agree that some force is useful if one insists on living and working in Iraq. I am drawn to the belief, however, that Iraq is a war zone, where killing is random, and law is largely absent. Normal business carried out by non-Iraqi’s should not exist in Iraq. Diplomacy should not exist in Iraq, so diplomats should not live there, and, therefore, should not need the services of Blackwater.
Let’s be clear—Iraq is an anarchic state. There are others—Afghanistan, Somalia, and, lately, Pakistan. In such countries, not yet nation-states, we need a military presence, and probably police forces, but not diplomats. Diplomats come later, after these states achieve civilized status.
I would argue for a brand new role for the world body—yes, the United Nations. We need some way for the UN to declare certain states to be anarchic, and then to move armed forces into those states to secure the states so as to protect its citizens. The people in Somalia, Afghanistan, et al, should not have to wonder when an armed gang will swoop into their village to cut off the heads or hands of various citizens.
If we can afford to pay Blackwater, it occurs to me we can afford to pay for more US/NATO/UN armed troops-actual soldiers. We pay Blackwater forces several times what we pay US troops. Why not hire more actual soldiers? They are at least accountable to the various military chains of command for their actions. Blackwater needs to leave places like Iraq. Maybe Exxon could then hire Blackwater to escort its tankers throughout the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Africa.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Beginning to Feel a Bit Like Christmas

It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas. Not because it’s snowing or anything like that. But because various people report that it is snowing . . . somewhere else. I can still remember it snowing in Bethesda, on a Sunday morning, as we watched out our living room window at snowflakes falling and accumulating.
Trees are arising all around us, sparkling house lights are coming into view, as people begin their decorating.
Daily, we get reminders of both the season and the dismal economic times through which we are passing. We are grateful for our health, and for the fact that, for the moment, we are still economically afloat.
I had really quite forgotten my life during the early 1940s, when my Mother struggled to keep food on the table—it was rationed, as were her wages. We never experienced the bread lines of the 30’s, to my knowledge, although I have only spare memories of that time. That early stock market crash, caused by precisely the same kind of greed and stupidity as has now caused the latest crash, had less effect on our family, because we owned no stocks, no real estate, no car. We bounced around from apartment to apartment, staying just ahead of the bill collectors. Then we stabilized at being simply poor.
Now, we actually know people being hurt, perhaps even ruined financially by the fools in whom, the Nation entrusted its economic future. We have been hurt also, just not as badly as people who were poised to retire on their company’s stock holdings, only to find those holdings now worthless. We have not been hurt as the many millions who irrationally bought houses above their income levels, because they wanted a piece of the American pie. Now they find themselves facing a homeless, bankrupt Christmas.
So, having so far escaped the worst of the current crisis, we are profoundly thankful. But we are thankful, with one eye watching our backs, waiting to see if someone or something else is approaching from the rear. Our past is never so far away that it is beyond recognition. Our grandparents, unprotected by such systems as Social Security and Medicare, literally ran out of money, and then time. Again, we are fortunate.
So, we look forward to yet another happy holiday season, mindful of the many people who face a more bleak future. Will we ever learn, I wonder? We have been regaled for decades with tales of the depression, and why it could never again occur—we had systems built in to prevent such occurrences, we were told.
What they neglected to tell us is that the folks we left in charge have been systematically dismantling those protective systems to the point where they simply disappeared. Now we have a new group of folks coming in to fix the roof on our collective national house, which is currently hemorrhaging. Let us hope that the incoming folks remember the earlier dismal days, and act to erect safer edifices to protect the Nation from the fools within. . . and there will always be fools within. .

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Auto Bailouts

So the Big Three—those “walking dead men” called US Auto Makers—are soon to arrive in Washington, this time via automobile. What a concept—AutoMakers driving to a meeting, at which they are begging for gold.
As I best understand it, their begging bowls keep getting larger (images of Pinocchio and his growing nose keep springing to mind). They now want something closer to $40 Billion—hmmm, pretty soon they’ll be talking real money. GM will cut costs by dumping dealers, and eliminating lines—like Pontiac and Saturn (Hummer anyone?). Ford and Chrysler have similar ideas, although Chrysler seems closer to going over the cliff regardless of what they do. I guess the last Chrysler bailout (remember Lee Iaccoca?) didn’t work too well.
While nobody really wants the US automakers to disappear( well, not completely true—there’s always Toyota, et al) the whole thing leaves me kind of breathless. They go on for years, decades really, making cars that are demonstrably inferior to the competition, and now come hat in hand because they can’t survive the competition. Yes, the global recession is hurting them, but how come Toyota, Honda, et al are not facing bankruptcy?
It is reasonable to argue that the auto makers are no more to blame for their woes than our bankers and other financial thugs. True enough, and I’m still awaiting an explanation of why that suggestion that we dump AIG and send the money instead directly to the American people (checks for $400,000 each was suggested) isn’t an inherently better investment than giving the money to AIG.
Still, I guess our financial betters know more than we do about such things (oh wait, they don’t know more, do they?).
Well, I’m going to stay tuned for this fascinating debate about whether and how much money we will print, or borrow from the Chinese, to keep our auto industry afloat.
Still, I really could use that $400,000 guys . . .

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Early Morning Thoughts

A friend sent me an article written by an author in India. The author wrote to complain about the news media’s coverage of the Mumbai savagery. I read, and read, marveling at both the anger and the underlying assumption. The author argued, passionately, that the media was hung up on reporting the disaster from the perspective of rich people, i.e., those people residing at the Taj Mahal Hotel, and perhaps even the Oberoi. The article left me wondering what the author expected of the news media covering the tragedy.
She argued that other places had been hit and people killed in those places, but it was only the playgrounds of the rich and famous that received coverage. She kept arguing that the Taj Hotel wasn’t a real icon of India. That the railway station was as iconic and deserving of greater coverage. She was right of course, but it seemed to me that she missed the point of TV news. I kept thinking, TV news is all about entertainment. It uses actual news events to sell soap, or coca cola. In India, maybe it is used to sell Tata trucks.
Of course it doesn’t provide coverage of all the news. Ours doesn’t here either. US TV news focuses on drama, or comedy—theatrical coverage, that facilitates the selling of cars, or coke, or Wal-Mart. It is why we gave up watching TV news of any kind, even PBS. Instead, we read actual newspapers, in our case a daily Charlotte Observer and a Sunday New York Times. We supplement those news outlets with on-line outlets—the BBC, and the Manchester Guardian in Great Britain, the Washington Post and New York Times on-line editions, and something called The Thai-India News. We also never fail to watch PBS’ The Bill Moyers Journal, perhaps the finest journalistic program on the air. Moyers makes you . . . gasp . . . think.
We observe here that journalism seems a dying enterprise, to be replaced by Entertainment Daily. Newspapers may be the first to go, if our rapidly shrinking Charlotte Observer is any indicator. I guess people increasingly don’t read—they twitter, chatter, and blather on about American Idols. Maybe our 35-40% school drop-out rate is to blame. But who’s to blame for the drop-out rate? I’d love to blame Wal-Mart, or organized religion, but I’d surely miss the mark.
Maybe President Obama needs to focus on education first. Unfortunately, the 12th century folks who keep shooting up the world’s stages, seem intent on denying him that luxury. They keep shouting, “look at me, look at me. I’m important.” And look he must, if we are all to survive.
One wonders whether, in the dark hours, before dawn brings the light, he awakens, and thinks, “why did I do this to myself?”
And then, at that same moment, I awaken, and think, “Great heavens’, we are lucky we have a person of some intellectual prowess at the helm. Go back to sleep, Richard. Barack will wrestle with the latest mess.”

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Terrorism . . . what does it mean?
In the late 1700s, the British citizens of the American colonies, decided that King George was a tyrant and acted consistently against their wishes and, in fact, their interests. Those citizens rose up and launched what became a War of Independence, or the American Revolution. Eventually, those citizens succeeded in gaining their independence from Great Britain.
In 1857, Indian citizens rose up and launched what they call their First War of Independence, and what the British call the Great Indian Mutiny. That mutiny, or war of independence was put down, albeit with great violence and brutality. Eventually, following WW II, it became clear to the British that holding its “Crown Jewel”—India—was not worth the probable eventual cost, and on August 15, 1947, they granted independence to India.
Spring forward to 2001. A group of 19 Muslims, operating out of Afghanistan, hijacked and then crashed commercial airliners into first the World Trade Center, then the Pentagon. A third plane was forced by the hijacked passengers to crash into a field. That series of acts triggered what has become known as the global war against terrorism. This war was largely initiated and carried out by Americans, although some allied support has been provided.
One difference between the first several wars cited above and this latter “war” was the intended outcome—independence from an occupying colonial power, as opposed to . . . What? We don’t seem to know the answer to the question—“what are they trying to achieve? With the latest outrage—the savage attacks and killing spree by some ten terrorists, presumptively of Pakistani origin, although that is not known yet with certainty—we do not even have an announced motive. The terrorists made no claims, captured no hostages. They simply arrived in Mumbai, India, and began systematically killing people.
My best guess on this enigma is that the terrorists are indeed Muslim, and that their motive is a systematic attempt to inflame the world—to trigger another “holy war” by non-Muslims against the Muslim world. Why would they want such an unholy outcome? Because, I now believe, they expect that the remainder of the Muslim world—that part not now engaged in their quest, will perforce have to join them, or be destroyed by the non-Muslim world in the coming "Crusade". Horrible to contemplate, I realize, but I can find no other, less cataclysmic, (even if delusional) reasoning. At least with the pirates who operate out of Somalia, we can see the purpose—money, pure and simple. But with the attacks in India, and with many other attacks taking place throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no mercenary purpose. Rather it all seems either vaguely religious in origin,(a seriously twisted corruption of their religious tenets) or some grand (and demented) form of imperialistic thinking by deluded people who live in caves, possess 12th century minds, and dwell on some future world in which they would rule the earth.
It is likely that, had we reacted differently to the 2001 attacks, perhaps with greater intelligence and less hardware, the current global mess might have been averted. But also, perhaps not. We cannot know. But going forward, there appear to me no reasonable, completely military solutions. We need to return perhaps to an earlier age—“speak softly, but carry a big stick.” Somehow, we need to rally—organize really—the entire world—Muslim and non-Muslim alike—against these brutal and immoral acts of savagery. The US right wing seemingly loves to mock the United Nations, but I see few alternatives to employing and even expanding the role of the United Nations against the terrorists, especially in anarchic states such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Iraq. I am hopeful that a President Obama will succeed in gaining global support, through international agencies to arresting the current sharp increases in world savagery. Civilization is at stake.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving is Over

Thanksgiving is Over . . . or is It?
So, we gathered together, all 23 of us, to celebrate the plenty in our lives. In my growing up years, a family gathering might include six or seven people, never more. Now, having moved around the country and globe, and finally settling here in North Carolina, our extended family has grown, and settled within hailing distance—from New York to Alabama. And we do come together now and again. Babies, old people, and lots in between.
We gather together partly just to be together. But we also have to celebrate the goodness in our collective lives, and the soon to arrive addition to the family—another beautiful soul to join our ranks. Happily, these gatherings are without the family battles that often characterize large families. We don’t all think alike, but that seems to be ok. I guess it’s a sign of health that we are able to tolerate each other’s quirks, and beliefs, mainly because we love one another, and we have this family tie thing. We have some history together, and when we recount some of that history—tales told over and over—everyone laughs, or groans. We also note during our gatherings the missing ones—some now gone from this earth, others just residing in different places around the globe, but all still remembered. The missing are part of our gathering, in spirit if not physical presence.
So, we gathered, and then in an instant, we dispersed, scattered again to places near and far. But we all left behind within each person, a small memory fragment, of good times, and shared emotions. It is the memory fragments that provide the ties that bind, to be renewed at each similar gathering. The ties are strengthened, the extended family grows slightly, and we become, like another universe, spinning around one another.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Obama Moves In

As Obama begins the process of picking out the curtains and hiring the maids (Hillary, Bob, Timothy, et al) in his new digs, one thing he needs to focus on is the moles, burrowing as we speak, from Shrub’s gang of thugs. Little Shrub has been a busy bee lately. In addition to accelerating his attack on the nation’s regulatory structure by deregulating almost everything in favor of his rich contributors), he has also been busy burrowing his incompetent staffers within the ranks of the career civil service. I guess all presidents have done this kind of thing. It’s just that, like everything else he has done, Shrub is carrying this effort beyond anyone’s imagination. So what I think is this.
Obama needs to create a new subcabinet position, maybe within that department we never really needed—you know, Homeland Security (the solution in search of a problem). The new subcabinet post would be something like Assistant Secretary of Doofuses. As soon as Obama takes office officially, he would begin the task of transferring all the newly burrowed republican moles to the new Office of Doofuses within Homeland Security (kind of like the Turkey Train that occurred when the Department of Education was created and people were transferred from DHEW). Then, after the transfers are official, he would announce that the Office was being located in Alaska. And not just anywhere in Alaska. Since Republicans are so fond of ANWR, I’m thinking that they could move the office to the end of the line, where Ernest Leffingwell traveled.
Alaska’s Arctic Expeditions might provide travel agent services for the newly arrived Republican staffers. On November 23, 2005 , an Arctic Expeditions crew set out from Kavik River, Alaska on the first year (winter) of an unprecedented journey in Alaska's arctic Brooks Range and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). With a team of 22 Alaskan malamutes, pulling three sleds with 2 tons of supplies, the crew mushed for five months into some of the most rugged and inaccessible regions of the arctic. During the expedition they faced 70 mph winds, -100 degree wind chills, and 72 days of no sun. Five months later, they returned to Kavik River with the dog team, three completely empty sleds, and many tales of the adventure. Now doesn’t that just sound like the kind of government experience the newly burrowed Republicans were hankering for, I mean especially after they all breathlessly pursued the Wasilla Barbie for VEEP. That Arctic Expeditions trip was a tribute to the "forgotten explorer," Ernest de Koven Leffingwell (1876-1971). Leffingwell was a member of the Anglo-American-polar Expedition (1906-1908) which established that there was no land North of Alaska. Leffingwell is credited for mapping much of the arctic coast and the Brooks Range, which is now part of ANWR, between 1908 and 1914.
Now wouldn’t that just be the perfect spot for the little Shrubbies?
And what would be their task? Well, they could be placed in charge of protecting Alaskan ice. Yep, you do know that Alaskan ice is one of the great American national treasures, don’t you? I know, when I last visited Alaska in 1968, the hotel in Juneau served Alaskan blue glacier ice in their drinks. Now, doesn’t that suggest a true national treasure, eminently worthy of the Republican staffers’ best efforts? I mean, they are so into preservation and conservation. Right?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mencken on Politics

HL Mencken once wrote:
“Turn, now, to politics. Consider, for example, a campaign for the Presidency. Would it be possible to imagine anything more uproariously idiotic — a deafening, nerve-wracking battle to the death between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
I defy any one to match it elsewhere on this earth. In other lands, at worst, there are at least intelligible issues, coherent ideas, salient personalities. Somebody says something, and somebody replies.

Here, having perfected democracy, we lift the whole combat to symbolism, to transcendentalism, to metaphysics. Here we load a pair of palpably tin cannon with blank cartridges charged with talcum power, and so let fly. Here one may howl over the show without any uneasy reminder that it is serious, and that some one may be hurt. I hold that this elevation of politics to the plane of undiluted comedy is peculiarly American, that no-where else on this disreputable ball has the art of the sham-battle been developed to such fineness…”

And so, we are finished with this silly season, happily. Finished also with a pseudo-leader who is incompetent in two languages, a man who cannot complete an intelligible sentence. We now come to a period in which we will have a leader who is a learned man, one who actually speaks English.
What will we do, having such a leader?
Perhaps, such a leader will make us to understand that a leader cannot solve most of our problems. He may guide us to a solution here or there, but largely we remain masters of our own universe. If we choose to work at solving the problem of undereducation, then solutions are possible, even if at some cost. If we choose to work at bringing peace to places that have not known peace for many decades, perhaps centuries, then perhaps peace may arrive.
If we decide that all of our people should have access to decent health care, then perhaps, one day, such a health care solution might be devised.
But our leader cannot do such things on his own. He can only point to the way.
I expect our new leader will do just that. Whether we the people will follow his advice and his guidance is still in doubt. Remember, 143 years after another leader showed us a new way, we seem to remain committed to continuing The Civil War.
But perhaps our new leader will ignite a new flame, and something akin to enlightenment will follow.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Chutzpah

Ahhh, yet another example of Republitive chutzpah.
Now, we have President Stupidhead arguing to the G20 (when did it change from the G8—inflation at work?) that we need to preserve the "free market" system. So, what I’d like to know is, when did we ever actually have a "free market" system? Seems to me, if he really wants the free market to continue working its magic, he should be arguing for no public money ever being used by any government to rescue the greedy doofuses (economic criminals) who managed to wreck the world economic system through its systematic looting behavior. Why in a”free market” would any public money ever be required?
And why in a theoretically free market would any government subsidies ever be required? And, by the way, why should Alaskan natives (Governor Palin and her crowd) ever receive payments from big oil companies just for living in Alaska?
And why would we subsidize oil companies by building superhighways that support an automobile transportation approach, but refuse to build the equivalent rail infrastructure that might compete with the automobile?
That fact seems to be that President Stupidhead and his white collar criminal friends like to have their cake while they also consume it. When they screw up, they yell for government bailouts. When their approach is not yet in free fall, they want government out of their way.
They don’t want to pay any taxes, but want roads, schools, police forces, teachers, a strong military.
Chutzpah . . . the man fairly drips with chutzpah, every time he opens his mouth.
Is there still time to impeach and then jail him and his criminal co-conspirator VEEP?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Starting Over

What, the recession isn’t over yet? What gives, Obama has been president-elect for a week now. He hasn’t yet solved our financial crisis? And hey, Iraq is still a mess, Afghanistan is on the edge of collapsing and returning to Taliban rule, and the Congolese continue their killing spree. There’s no Middle East Peace as of this writing. What has the man been doing?
Think the expectations are a bit high? I guess that’s what eight years of the Doofus Reign will do.
But first things first. The man needs to get his cabinet named, and then his subcabinet, perhaps even more important than the top jobs. I still remember the transition from Carter to Reagan, when I was sitting in the Department of Health Education & Welfare, awaiting the incoming team. And what proud moments they were. Until Bush, Reagan had in my limited view, the worst cabinet I had ever seen. But the bottomless barrel theory was alive and well, when Shrub took office. Reagan’s legacy is safe, as long as the world has George Bush to kick around.
This transition team appointments process is vital and a bit scary. I mean how does one avoid appointing people like Sarah Palin? It isn’t easy. One continuing problem is this notion, promulgated by Reagan, that “Government isn’t the solution, Government is the problem.” So, with that mentality, you appoint people to run these vast government agencies, who are essentially at odds with the mission of those agencies. So, you put people opposed to family planning in charge of the Federal family planning program. Or you place antagonists at the helm of agencies such as Justice, or the Food and Drug Administration, or the Environmental Protection Agency. Now, when you do that, you create dysfunctional agencies., much as happened at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, under Bush’s “heckuva job Brownie.” I guess, if you are a Ronald Reagan, or a George Bush, creating dysfunctional government agencies may seem a good thing—it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if you’re an ordinary American citizen, you might have come to rely on these regulatory agencies to protect you from the worst excesses of predatory capitalism. Who wouldn’t want protection from Chinese capitalists, for example? How much melamine would you like in your breakfast cereal, please?
So, Obama’s first very large job, apart from refloating the US banking and auto industries (the latter so they can keep producing Hummers for Joe Six-Pack), is finding a few thousand, highly competent people, who are not actually opposed to the mission of the agencies they will be asked to run. He will have lots of help, not just from employment agencies. He has all those lobby groups, whose job it is now to staff the agencies with people their industries approve of. He has all those now unemployed people who worked on his campaign.
And last of all, he has a virtual army of people who will now be unemployed for the first time in eight years—cartoon columnists, and comedians, whose industry has suddenly collapsed because Obama is not funny—he’s, gasp, thoughtful, and double gasp, smart.
Heaven forfend.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Turning the Page

Turning the Page
Yes, the election of 2008 is over and it’s time to get on with the business of Government again. But, before we leave, a few farewells are in order.
1. Miss Vanilla Wasilla, the Alaskan iceberg who personally sank the SS Maverick, an old rustbucket that deserved to sink anyway, gave us many moments of sheer joy (assuming you were a thinking moderate). Her “deer-in-the-headlights” look when asked by Katie Couric to recount which newspapers she read. Her assertion that Africa was a country, not a continent. Her ignorance of the countries involved in NAFTA; her inability to name the countries in North America. Her constant characterization of her supporters as the only “real Americans".
And then her shopping spree. Who will forget her shopping spree, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on her wardrobe and a few (thousands) of dollars for her precious first dude and her extensive family. All those and more, for which we thank Miss Wasilla. That the Republican Party is gearing up to nominate her in 2012 as their candidate, we can only say, Thank You.
2. Our own Robin Hayes, who believes and says that Liberals all hate America and those hard-working, God-fearing "real Americans". His farewell concession speech will long be remembered, when he said to Congressman-elect Kissell, “well you’ve been chasing this train for quite a while. I only hope you know how to drive it.” Now that ranks as perhaps one of the lowest in low-class concessions, making Hayes forever remembered as a mean-spirited little man, of no distinction, a man made rich through birth, who has never actually worked at anything. May he enjoy his retirement.
3. Also, kudos go out to Liddy Dole, who has now succeeded in trashing her husband’s good name on at least four separate occasions. Liddy has been given repeated opportunities to perform, thanks to Bob Dole. She was Secretary of Transportation, President of the American Red Cross, senator from North Carolina (talk about carpetbaggers) and head of the Senate GOP Committee on electing GOP senators, all of which she neglected. Apparently, nobody told her that these were actual jobs, where she was supposed to do actual work. And then her ad, accusing her opponent of being “Godless”, an atheist who doesn’t believe in God. (in North Carolina, that would be a mortal sin in Catholic terms) Turns out her opponent was a church elder who teaches Sunday School. Yes, we will long remember Liddy as one of the true village idiots of the Grand Old Party. We send her back to her home state of Washington, DC (oops, not yet a state, but still . . .)
So, yes, let’s get on with the business of governing. But first, will someone come in and sweep up all the broken china left behind by that Texas village idiot?
Yeah, thanks.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It is Over

It’s over.
The months of anticipation are now done, and hard work lies ahead. Perhaps the most immediate hard work involves disabling George Bush, who seems intent on gutting every protection we have as citizens from the worst instincts of predatory capitalism. Bush apparently has no intention of going quietly into the night. His ongoing assault on regulations looks like something akin to the scorched earth policies of past military dictators. We hope he will be stopped, as he seems to be operating on his own worst instincts, which are bad enough even in “normal” times.
President-Elect Obama also needs to focus on his appointments to the senior cabinet posts and, as importantly, the next several layers down—the Assistant secretaries, and their Deputies. Having worked at that level during the Reagan Administration, I am acutely aware of the problems created by incompetent people who are also overtly hostile to the mission of the agencies they will be managing. Mr., Bush apparently knew no competent people, so he tapped into his phone directory of rich and not so famous donors. “Heckuva-a-job-Brownie” was only one of probably thousands. He even screwed with the health and science agencies, something most past Republicans have left to the professionals. So, now Mr. Obama must find dedicated and highly competent professionals to begin to right the wrongs of the eight year desert called Bush.
Many people both here and abroad will surely be disappointed, since Mr. Bush has stripped away most of the resources normally available to the Federal Government. Even if Mr. Obama decides to raise taxes, the deficits created by the Bush years will continue for many years. It will be difficult to deliver on many of the promises made until the economy is righted again. And that will take some time, and the active cooperation of Democrats, Republicans and the American people. To those who whine about having to pay taxes, my response is that taxes represents the glue that binds us together as a civilized society. Mr. Bush focused his eight years on rewarding his richest friends. The piper is now playing his tune and he is demanding payment. It is time to restart our American society as the just nation it has been in the past.
We wish Mr. Obama well. We are confident that he intends to restore our national honor and dignity. We are confident that he will begin again working with the rest of the world. We are all on this sphere together, hurtling through space on a heavenly voyage. It is again time to begin acting as though we are one world.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What Will We Do?

What will we all do when it’s over?
“It” in this instance is the never-ending campaign soon actually to end. For myself, I started writing a Blog for reasons unknown—“Because it’s there, said the man when asked why he climbed Mt. Everest?” Now, the Blog has turned into this liberal rant on the election. But, now, “whither thou goest?” We’ll just have to see, I guess.
I’m also thinking of my Bush corner. See, for the past several years, I have been producing a Bush calendar. It obviously makes fun of Bush—he’s such a target . . . like those mighty hunters who shoot moose and other sides of barns. My calendar is pretty funny, and allows me to laugh at this most disastrous president we have ever had in this once proud nation, soon to be proud again. But my Bush corner also contains a Bush countdown calendar—a little electronic thing about the size of a credit card that counts down the days til he leaves office and returns, with Cheney, to his spiderhole in Texas. Our little corner contains a daily calendar that you tear off each day, to reveal something inane our doofus president has said, and there are so many. Finally, there is a collection of little buttons that proclaim something about our stupid president. That whole corner will now have to go, to be replaced by art . . . or maybe just by soap, a truly symbolic gesture.
I also wonder what will happen to Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, whose careers have been made by our comedic president and his idiotic advisers and spokespeople. . Think of William Krystol, “why is everyone so exercised? It’s not a psychodrama; it’s ONLY AN ELECTION.” Or about his latest press spokeswoman, Dana Perino, who seemed to have no idea what the Cuban Missile Crisis was all about—Uhh, the possibility of blowing up the entire planet??? Or his VEEP, who shot his friend in the face after having a few beers and then deciding to go shooting quail. Who will provide Stewart and Colbert with such rich material? I realize you can make fun of anyone, but Bush is like the Mother Lode of comedic material.
Well, I guess we’ll all just have to cope.
Of course, if Sarah Palin gets elected . . .

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Civil War

Here in the South, they call The Civil War, the War of Northern Aggression. The first time we heard that term, we had no idea what they were talking about. But we soon got it. When we lived in India, the Indians refer to The Great Indian Mutiny (British term for the bloody uprising of 1857) as The First War for Independence. It's true, where you stand seems to depend, at least partly, on where you sit.
When we see guys (mostly guys) driving around in trucks with Confederate battle flag license plates, we are uncomfortable, since, to us, it translates to "racist". No other explanation suffices, and references to history or culture never quite pass the sniff test.
So, as we approach the great election of 2008, I am holding my breath. Hopeful, but frightened at the same time. We know that Bush's team stole at least one election, and that attempts to stifle the vote are ongoing in this one.
Still, I'm hopeful.
Part of what I hope for is a final end to The Civil War. Maybe this is the time when we can finally say, "It's over." And, as Lincoln declared, "we can all play Dixie again."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Palin as a Halloween Scare

Halloween is for scaring people, mostly kids I know, but a lot of adults have been scared out of their wit’s end lately.
Today, as I was browsing among my many e-mail news and opinion e-mails, one from the Washington Post, struck me as really scary.
Eugene Robinson, a thoughtful columnist, wrote: “I thought Palin was a lightweight; she's not. I thought she was an ingenue; she is, but only as long as her claws are sheathed. I thought she was bewildered and star-struck at her sudden elevation to national prominence; if she ever was, she isn't anymore. I thought she was nothing but raw political talent and unrealistic ambition; it turns out that she has impressive political skills. I thought she was destined to become nothing more than a historical footnote; I now think that Democrats underestimate her at their peril.
She has more to say about foreign policy besides the fact that Russia is just across the Bering Strait. She has learned much in a very short period.
And she will learn more. I predict we'll have Sarah Palin to kick around for a long, long time”
Now that’s scary. It’s as though someone predicted that in four years, Ahmedinejhad would be likely to assume the presidency of the US. I regard her kind of in that same light. She seems beyond simple ignorance . Her disbelief in evolution, and her Bible beliefs seem delusional and place her in a special category. The fact that she is so certain about everything she says and does, in view of her astounding ignorance, makes her not only scary, but potentially dangerous to the entire world.
I kept hoping that, since her appearance on the world’s stage has been uniformly disastrous, except as seen through the special lenses used by the Christian Taliban, she would sink back into the Alaskan tundra. That thinking, sentient human beings in this great nation would consider her a viable candidate for President is, frankly so disturbing that it fills me with fear for the world.
Maybe Eugene Robinson is wrong. Maybe it’s all just a huge Halloween prank on his part.
Let us hope so.
Trick or Treat anyone??

Thursday, October 30, 2008


"Chutzpah: A term in Hebrew used indignantly, to describe someone who has over-stepped the boundaries of accepted behavior with no shame."
That would be John McCain, when, speaking in Florida to Cuban-Americans, he describes Obama as a socialist equivalent to Castro, Hugo Chavez, or any Latin leader who ever NATIONALIZED a business. This, coming on the heels of the largest Republican-inspired government takeover of American business in our history.
Now that, folks is classic Chutzpah!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Someone left an interesting comment on my last posting, as in "When did "liberal" become a nasty word? When I wasn't watching?"
The reason for that posting, contrasting my view of liberals and conservatives was written in part because I have grown really tired of having "republican-conservatives" fling the word "liberal" at people as though it is a dirty word. It has in fact been happening for quite a while now, although to be honest I'm not sure which "republican-conservative" was the first to heap excrement on the term . . . maybe Newt Gingrich? I don't know. I'm curious.
I only know that, while "republican-conservatives" have been busy over the past 20 years trashing real conservatism through their actions, they have been simultaneously creating this image of liberals as nasty persons, evil, wrong-doers, etc., etc. That was the intent of my posting. First, Liberals have true value in the Republic. We have values worth emulating.
Second, "republican-conservatives" have adopted as their chosen tactic, to accuse Liberals of whatever evil they themselves have been doing.
So, we need to listen to "republican-conservatives" (or more simply for this new breed, "republitives") carefully when they attempt to heap scorn on Liberals and, more generally, Democrats. They are giving us clues to their own actions.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Liberals vs. Conservatives

Conservative Voices:
William Krystol: "McCain has a chance to close this election in a big and positive way. He has a chance to get voters to rise above the distractions and to set aside the petty aspects of the campaign."
David Frum: "The political culture of the Democratic Party has changed over the past decade. There's a fierce new anger among many liberal Democrats, a more militant style and an angry intolerance of dissent and criticism.
Unchecked, this angry new wing of the Democratic Party will seek to stifle opposition by changing the rules of the political game. Some will want to silence conservative talk radio by tightening regulation of the airwaves via the misleadingly named "fairness doctrine"; others may seek to police the activities of right-leaning think tanks by a stricter interpretation of what is tax-deductible and what is not
Peter Wehner: "Republicans and conservatives need to examine what has gone wrong and why. To be useful, those inquiries must be broken into parts. The GOP is in bad shape; conservatism is not. Consider: Political and personal scandals have tarnished the GOP's image. The early years of the Iraq war were badly mismanaged. The financial crisis, fairly or not, is laid at the feet of Republicans.
But it is a mistake to assume that significant GOP losses, should they occur, are a referendum on conservatism. In part, the GOP's problems stem from being seen as less principled (think "Bridge to Nowhere").
And an Obama victory would not signal an ideological pivot. Indeed, Barack Obama is, in important ways, a testimony to the conservative disposition of the country. He resists the label "liberal" as if it were lethal (which it is in presidential politics)".

Ahh, the Far Right continues on its course of denial. Krystol will never concede the harm that he and his neo-con co-conspirators have done to this Nation, and indeed to the world. David Frum, ex-speech writer for the right wing, sees Democratic boogeymen behind every door, modeled after his own Republican Party. He attributes to Democrats, all the evils to which his party has succumbed.
And then Mr. Wehner, who refuses to acknowledge that it is more than partisanship that is operating here. He still sees conservatism as being of sound mind and body. I see conservatism as being the problem, because conservatism, like all religions, is never anything more than its practitioners reveal to us through their actions. Its core is represented by the people doing the damage.
Here is one definition of a conservative:
· resistant to change
· having social or political views favoring conservatism
· avoiding excess; "a conservative estimate"
· unimaginatively conventional
· conforming to the standards and conventions of the middle class; "a bourgeois mentality"
· a person who is reluctant to accept changes and new ideas

Here is a definition of Liberals:
· favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs
· favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties
· favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers
· of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies
· free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners
· open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
· characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts

Perhaps it is time to revisit this presumption that being a Liberal is just a dirty word. Maybe Liberals are simply people who see the world as a potentially fairer place than it is currently.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Foreign Sightings

I receive regular e-mail updates on something called the Thai-Indian News. It tells me what is being reported in newspapers in India and South Asia. Yesterday's edition led with:
"Sarah Palin and John McCain spent $52,000 on make-up in six weeks."
Isn't it nice that the US election campaigns are becoming the laughing stock of the world at large?
Somehow, I imagine that, had Barack Obama just spent $150,000 on a wardrobe, or that his campaign had spent $52,000 on make-up for, say, his wife, Fox (pseudo) News would have gone ballistic.
Is this what Sarah and Senator John mean when they tell us they are "mavericks"?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thinking about Mr. Greenspan

“Oops, I guess I was mistaken,” says Mr. Greenspan.
“Excuse me? You didn’t know that giving bankers and investment managers the freedom to do whatever they wanted, and then not monitoring them, would lead eventually to a debacle? Really, you didn’t know that?”
The recent collapse, followed by statements by economists and other wizards, should convince everyone the world over that: a) economics is not a science; and b) unfettered anything that concerns human beings is generally a bad idea.
During the 1972 recession—the Nixon Recession—Alan Greenspan and other wizards said that you couldn’t have a recession and inflation at the same time. Yet, there it was – a recession and inflation at the very same time. Mr. Greenspan, during that very same recession, spoke to a group of welfare workers and welfare mothers in an auditorium at the Department of Health and Human Services. He said to that assemblage, “well, you want to know who is being really hurt by this recession? The stock brokers.” Yeah, he really said that.
Economists seem passing good at statistical extrapolation. They can take some numbers, construct a trend, and then predict that, all things being equal as they like to say, this is where we will be sometime later. That’s it. Economics is statistics dressed up as science, but there’s no real science there at all. So, we need to be careful asking economists to explain things to us, or to construct solutions. If War is too important to be left to Generals, then surely World Finance is too important to be left to Economists.
Now, exactly who constructed this theory that an unregulated financial system was a good idea? I know that Mr. Greenspan subscribed to it, but it seems, on its face, such a crazy idea, that it is difficult to believe that anyone followed it. Apparently, our politicians, being general doofuses on any subject that involves math beyond the point where they can count on their fingers and toes, allowed economists to dictate on this subject. Turns out that’s a really bad idea. But it’s not just a bad idea in finance. It’s a bad idea more broadly.
This country was founded on the idea of checks and balances. We don’t want anyone to have too much power, and nobody should have unchecked power. Our Founding Fathers were clever that way, or maybe they simply observed monarchies and concluded they were a bad idea (except for the monarchs of course).
So, let’s get back to the system envisioned when we constructed this Republic of ours. Let’s start again paying attention to our Constitution, and let’s start paying attention to this checks and balance approach. Hey, George and Dick, we got rid of monarchs here a long time ago. It’s your turn to go.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Scorched Earth Strategy

As the political silly season (henceforth to be known as the Stupid Season) draws to an end, the republican campaign seems intent on a “scorched earth” approach. We are hearing at every level and in both national and state races, an attempt to separate Liberals or democrats more broadly, who are labeled as Godless, Anti-Americans, from the other side-Republicans—God-Fearing, Pro-Americans. In Virginia, republican campaign spokespeople labeled Northern Virginians as not part of the “Real Virginia”. In Minnesota, Michele Bachman is calling for a McCarthyite type investigation into Liberals and other Anti-Americans. And McCain and Palin continue their assault on Obama’s character, attempting to declare him as “different”, “unknown”, not quite American, and, of course their old favorite “Socialist.”
Labeling Obama as a socialist on the heels of the biggest government bailout of corrupt, mostly republican CEOs in the history of the Nation, is perhaps one more definition of that old time Chutzpah, or simply, the pot calling the kettle black.
Republicans are now famous (infamous??) for taking something they do routinely, calling it un-American, and then attempting to tar the other fellow with it. I guess they know well whereof they speak.
The central problem with the scorched earth approach, of course, is that someone will have to govern after the election, and that someone will need Americans to pull together. Legislators, whether they are republican or Democrat, will need to begin working on solutions to the most catastrophic mess the world has ever seen. It is hard to imagine how George W. Bush could have done more damage if he had been trying. So, there is a lot of work to be done, and much careful thought applied to the world’s problems. Republicans have now made that job infinitely more difficult by their chosen strategy.
It is one thing to attack the opposition’s positions on issues of concern. It is entirely different to focus your main attack on the opposition’s character, patriotism, religion, skin color, or, even, age. Character assassination leaves behind much ugliness, whereas differences on issues leave behind simply differences of opinion, ready to be tested in real life conditions.
It is regrettable that the Republican strategy has deteriorated to this now single focus on the character of the candidates, and even the character of Americans planning to vote their conscience.
Republicans, I hope, will live to regret this approach.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Voting Early

So, Carol and I stood outside the Concord, NC polling place for five hours today, handing out a voter guide for Democratically-leaning voters—taking care to remain outside the fifty foot, hassle-free zone. “Want a guide to Democratic candidates” I would ask. ‘Why yes, thanks,” they would respond, Or, “NO, I want nothing to do with a democrat list,” they would snarl. Mostly people are pretty nice. But I kept wondering why the aging republicans in particular, are so angry. Maybe, it’s because they’re old, and see their mythical world crumbling beneath them., and they can’t do anything about it. Or maybe it’s because they are part of the Grand Old Party that has caused the collapse of the greatest Empire on earth, caused the world at large to hate us, and have overseen the near bankruptcy of this once proud nation. I guess that might make you anxious.
Or maybe because, being in the South, they see this young, smart Black guy poised to take over the Presidency, and don’t that just beat all?
Standing on the line, handing out guides was generally a positive thing, making me feel a part of something important taking place in this once great nation. For a while I connected with two young Black men, both college-age kids poised to vote for the first time. These two young men were working for the Larry Kissel campaign. I thought two things. First, I’m an old white guy connecting on an intellectual level with two young Black kids from Charlotte. And isn’t that a nice thing?
Second, these two young Black men are working for a middle-aged White guy running for the US Congress from a district in central North Carolina. Now, ain’t that something?
All in all, I’d call this a good day.
And, although I wasn’t counting, my mind’s eye was telling me that this very heavy early voting turnout is running maybe 70-30 for the Dems.
I am encouraged that perhaps our long National nightmare flirtation with fascism may be closing out, and that a truly new day is dawning.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Republican Caricatures

Caricature: Noun -- exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of parts or characteristics, especially through giving a serious or lofty subject a frivolous treatment.
Republicans have grown fond of and adept at creating caricatures, or even myths of characters that they then peddle via commercials and a corrupted and distorted press (aka Fox News) to the public as their latest "reality".
Joe the Plumber is their latest myth, but I wonder whether anyone asked Joe whether he wished for this particular version of 15-minutes of fame? What they do, often, is to create the caricature, sell it, then discard it. In Joe’s case, they took a guy who asked a legitimate question about taxation policy and then distorted it and then turned the guy into some huge image of yet another of their “Joe-Sixpack” creations—a made up guy to peddle their false line that Obama will raise everyone’s taxes and that they really care about the working class. Since the Republicans in general and McCain in particular, have no residual credibility on economic policies any longer, many of these caricatures fail to sell. They then discard the image and actual guy. I am thinking that Joe the pseudo-plumber might not have wanted the entire world to know that he is not a licensed plumber and hasn’t paid his taxes. Some things are better left unadvertised. Yet Palin and McCain, uncaring as they are, continue to press this guy’s fake story line, making him even more of a fool than he already is with each retelling. But it is important to stress—they don’t care what they do to real people, so long as they can sell their story line and it aids their campaign.
See, it’s all about them.
Palin has really done the same thing to her home town. Wasilla is now something of a national joke—or at least the butt of many national jokes. And she doesn’t care what she has done to this town of real people with real problems, so long as it furthers her career aspirations. Sarah is and always has been, all about Sarah.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ignorance is Bliss

So, now, beyond her polar bear fetish, Sarah Barracuda is fighting to keep the Beluga Whale off the endangered Species List. What’s with Sarah? Has she run out of Beluga Whale oil to light her Main-Street lights? And she needs a polar bear burger fix? Apparently Sarah has never met an Endangered animal she didn’t want to kill.
The really creepy thing about our gal Sarah is that she entertains no boundaries on her ignorance and, generally, doesn’t know or care just how ignorant she is. She still thinks she should be able to weigh in on important decisions. If she once in a while had some doubts, we might find her more forgivable—pitiable perhaps, but at least more forgivable. She reminds me of what 14th century religious leaders must have been like—entirely ignorant of the world, but completely sure of themselves on all subjects.
Can you picture her on that infamous 3:00 AM call on the red phone? (wonder if it’s really red?)
“Hi, it’s me, the President, ya’betcha. Who’s this?”
“Well, it’s George, your NSA Director, Madame President. We think we’ve picked up some tentative signs that Iran may be moving troops to the border of Afghanistan. We’re not sure yet of their intent, or even if it’s just a defensive maneuver on their part to warn the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan not to start anything.”
“Well, George, I think we should nuke’m. Yep, ya betcha, that’ll send them a message from me. “
“Well, Madame. I think that might be a bit precipitous on our part. We think we should launch some spy drones and monitor them for a while.”
“George, quit being a pussy, and launch me some nucular bomb things.”
“But, Madame . . .”
“George, did I hear a But from you? Didn’t I tell you not to ever But me?”
“Yes, Madame President.”
“So, just get on with it George. And don’t call me again at 3:00 AM. When in doubt, send’em a nucular message from me. Got it, George? Bye now.”
Yep, creepy she is, ya’betcha.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Joe the (sort of, well maybe) plumber

Ahh, the Republicans have come up with a new poster child. How do they manage this sort of thing? This time, their campaign uses Joe (six-pack??) the plumber. Except, he's not really a plumber. He's a sort of plumber's helper (I thought they were little plunger thingies that you used to clear your crapper). Turns out Joe has no license, doesn't belong to a trade union, and, oh by the way, owes back taxes--heaven forfend we should raise the man's taxes, assuming he ever actually got a license to practice his trade. he might not pay them anyway.
Now isn't he the perfect helpmate for a failing McCain campaign? First the dude selected as his running mate a woman who has a witch doctor as her minister, doesn't believe in evolution, or global warming, and has as her main mantra, "drill baby, drill. . . drill now, drill everywhere, just drill." She doesn't read, or know much about anything, but she is really, really ambitious. She advertises her campaign is the Palin-McCain campaign. Hey, John, doesn't that give you pause?
And, now, he wants us to believe that Joe six-pack, the pseudo-plumber is the guy to come in and rescue his campaign.
John, maybe you need to do the decent thing, and just retire to any of your seven houses. Any one will do. Just leave us alone, John.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Socialized . . .

So, let me get this straight.
Socialized Medicine, where you have your choice of doctors, but the government pays for part of your health care, is BAD.
But Socialized Banking, where the government bails out inept bankers and becomes a stockholder in "Private" banks, is GOOD.
Do I have that right?
Confused in Concord, NC.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Nation Divided

Carol and I watched our usual Friday night Bill Moyers Journal. It continues to be the most thoughtful program on TV. His guests were George Soros, who basically scared me, by reinforcing what I already believe—that we are witnessing another 1930 collapse, and our “leaders” are doing their best to exacerbate the basic problems. Every time I think of the writer who believes that history will rescue George Bush by discovering his "greatness", I gag, and then laugh. I assume, rather, that Shrub will sink like a heavy stone tossed into quicksand.
Moyers also discussed the election once again with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, one of the most thoughtful people in the country on this subject. She decried the foul play of both sides in this miserable campaign. Obama, she asserts, has played fast and loose with the truth about McCain, his relationship with the Keating scandal, and with his role in the collapse of the global economy. She believes that the McCain campaign, on the other hand, has been and continues to foul the air with its repeated assertions that Obama is basically a terrorist—guilt by dubious associations. Using Palin as the main attack dog, but weighing in himself routinely, the McCain campaign left the field of issues-based debate and has focused on character assassination for the past several weeks.
Because we do not watch commercial TV, I am spared these awful campaign ads, but because we read the newspapers, and we subscribe to various news outlets (BBC, NY Times, the Guardian) one cannot totally escape the fetid air of campaign rhetoric.
I keep wondering how the winner, no matter who that might be, will be able to manage the affairs of state after the campaign has run its ugly course. I had thought that no campaign could get uglier than the Karl Rove-inspired campaigns (forgetting of course Shrub’s daddy’s campaign manager—Lee Atwater, who practically defined the world of disgusting politics. But no, along comes the 2008 campaign, and we have a new bottom to this barrel of foul smelling wastage.
Our bottomless barrel theory is alive and well.
But how does one govern after such a debacle? And it isn’t exactly the case that Shrub is leaving a house intact, like Clinton did. After all, he managed to walk into this china shop of a Nation, smash everything in sight, empty the cash register and the ATM machine of any funds, piss off everyone we know, and many who do not really know us, and is now poised to stroll out the door, leaving the mess behind for the new guys to handle. And since the campaign has divided the country as never before, I wonder how we will ever manage to work together on solving the problems bequeathed to us by Shrub and his merry band of high-functioning imbeciles.
It will be interesting to watch.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Palin's Guilty

Palin's guilty.
Gee, what a surprise.
Think she'll take responsibility?
Nah, why do that, when she can simply deny it all, and then go on to the next subject-assaulting Obama's character.
Think she'll do that?
You betcha!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Ugly Campaigh Just Got Uglier

When Muslim terrorists set off a bomb in a crowded marketplace, thereby killing scores of innocents, I wait and watch to see what Muslim clerics will say. Generally, they say nothing. Sometimes, they urge their faithful forward to do more killing, as when they issue their fatwahs. I am appalled.
When Catholic priests abuse and rape children in their charge and the Catholic Church hierarchy says little and does less, I am again appalled. Where I wonder are the true ethical leaders of these important religions? Hiding apparently is the answer. They know nothing.
Now, here in this great land, we are witnessing daily the ugliest political campaign the Nation has ever seen, and still, the leadership says and does nothing. At a Sarah Palin rally, people yell, “Kill him,” referring to Obama . . . and she says nothing. Or people jostle reporters trying to cover the rally and they single out a black journalist, telling him to “get away boy.” And nobody says or does anything.
In this morning’s Charlotte Observer, a reader writes in to say, about the McCain-Palin campaign, “Sarah Palin isn’t speaking to those she knows won’t be voting for her ticket. She’s exhorting the bare majority she hopes will come out on election day and put her side over the top. In such a crucial election, the ends justify the means. If this requires the use of code words and appeals to baser instincts, so be it. Go, baby, go.”
The ends justify the means.
The ends justify the means.
Fateful words.
That’s how we wound up blowing up churches, lynching Black people, shooting leaders like Martin Luther King, destroying villages in order to save them.
The man has outed his party. Win, baby. Win by any means. The end (power to republicans) justifies any means. We have begun to see a few conservative writers, like George Will actually decry the current McCain scorched-earth campaign tactics, But not many and not enough. I hear nothing from the current republican Leadership—nothing. They are hiding also.
I see this period as signaling the arrival of The Real John McCain. The Real McCain has finally showed up—the seething, vicious bully, and his pit-bull comrade-in-arms; the man who long ago left decency and honor behind him in his single-minded pursuit of power. That’s the real John McCain, the family screw-up who is always angry.
And apparently, it has always been the real Sarah Palin.
One final thought for the day.
Sarah Barracuda has been mouthing off about Obama hating America and palling around with terrorists. Yet Sarah is married to a man who belongs to an organization advocating that Alaska should secede from America. The last time we faced secessionist states, we engaged in a long and bloody war, started one might add, by the states trying to secede. Does that mean that Sarah advocates waging war on America? Is that the real meaning of her hate-filled campaign?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Campaigns of Disbelief

It’s getting harder and harder to understand Republican campaign principles.
John McCain withdraws from—read cancels—his campaign in Michigan. He then follows up that pronouncement with a public decision to suspend discussions about the economy so he can focus on the real issue in this campaign—Barack Obama’s character. And he begins that character discussion (assassination?) with a Sarah Palin commentary accusing Obama of hanging around (“palling” was her made up word) with terrorists, that is, people who would attack the United States from within the country. Now Sarah isn’t big on facts--she doesn’t read, remember. And she continues, even in the face of having the real facts made public, to repeat the same falsehoods—lies—again and again. Apparently, neither Sarah nor the Old Guy cares much about Truth. The Straight Talk Express derailed about a year ago.
But what are we to make of this shift? First, this is one of those "be careful what you wish for" things. If the Old Guy has now opened Pandora’s Box, does he imagine that his role in The Keating Five Scandal will go unnoticed? Or that Sarah’s penchant of hiring into high office her old, completely unqualified high school chums will go unremarked? Or that The Old Guy’s reversal of self regarding the Agents of Intolerance, now his bosom buddies, will go unnoticed?
Or that Sarah’s claims about rejecting the Bridge to Nowhere was phony, and that she took the money and ran will not be discussed? It's also interesting that Sarah keeps questioning Obama's patriotism, while ignoring the fact that her husband belonged to an organization that espouses as its mission that Alaska should secede from the Union. Apparently Sarah and her mate don't much like this country, huh?
So, Sarah and Old Guy, your changes have been noticed. And those are changes we can take to the bank (assuming any still exist). That is, The Old Guy and his hot airhead chick will tell you anything so as to distract you from the reality that they are an empty set, and their party has run out of gas. They broke the family piggy bank, spent all the money on eye candy, and now they are sucking their thumbs, hoping that Mommy and Daddy (meaning you and me the tax-paying public) will rescue them.
So change on Old Guy. We know who you are.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Question: Is Sarah Palin a Thug?

Thug: 13th century robbers and killers in India: Thugs preferred to kill their victims at certain suitable places, called beles, that they knew well. They killed their victims usually in darkness while the thugs made music or noise to escape discovery. Each member of the group had its own function, like luring travellers with charming words or that of guardians to prevent escape of victims while the killing took place.

The Statement: Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin said Saturday, October 4, that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is "someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country."
The Facts from CNN: In making the charge at a fund-raising event in Englewood, Colorado, and a rally in Carson, California, Palin was referring at least in part to William Ayers, a 1960s radical. In both appearances, Palin cited a front-page article in Saturday's New York Times detailing the working relationship between Obama and Ayers. CNN's review of project records found nothing to suggest anything inappropriate in the volunteer projects in which the two men were involved.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told CNN that after meeting Obama through the Annenberg project, Ayers hosted a campaign event for him that same year when then-Illinois state Sen. Alice Palmer, who planned to run for Congress, introduced the young community organizer as her chosen successor. LaBolt also said the two have not spoken by phone or exchanged e-mail messages since Obama came to the U.S. Senate in 2005 and last met more than a year ago when they encountered each other on the street in their Hyde Park neighborhood.
The extent of Obama's relationship with Ayers came up during the Democratic presidential primaries earlier this year, and Obama explained it by saying, "This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood … the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago — when I was 8 years old — somehow reflects on me and my values doesn't make much sense."
The New York Times article cited by Palin concluded that "the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers." Other publications, including the Washington Post, Time magazine, the Chicago Sun-Times, The New Yorker and The New Republic, have said that their reporting doesn't support the idea that Obama and Ayers had a close relationship.
Verdict: False. There is no indication that Ayers and Obama are now "palling around," or that they have had an ongoing relationship in the past three years. Also, there is nothing to suggest that Ayers is now involved in terrorist activity or that other Obama associates are.
So the question remains: is Sarah Palin just a thug in 21st century guise?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

We have met the enemy and he is us

I’ve been receiving many comments about the VP debate and about Sarah Palin. Perhaps the most thoughtful is one by Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues. Eve is horrified, maybe even scared by the prospect of Sarah Palin becoming VP. Ditto me.
Why am I so horrified? I guess that Sarah Palin represents, for me, everything that is wrong with America. A woman who revels in her ignorance. She doesn’t believe in evolution, and her pastor, who she credits with helping her to attain the Alaska Governor’s position, is a literal witch doctor. He hunts witches. Excuse me, but is this AD 1208 or AD 2008? What, I wonder would the “liberal” media have made of a finding that Obama’s pastor was a witch doctor?
Palin says that she will recruit people from all political parties . . . so long as they graduated with her at Wasilla High. She can’t recall what newspapers she reads—apparently she reads everything—The Witchcraft Daily, Who’s Who Monthly in Rapturing, What’s New at Our Wasilla Stupidhead Parties. She doesn’t miss a trick.
But she’s a Governor you say.
Yeah, but it’s Alaska, I respond.
What else do you need to know about Alaska beyond the fact that they elected this bimbo airhead HS cheerleader Governor? Oh, and the fact that she still pronounces it “NUCULER”!
And she winks at the TV monitor. Is that because she thinks she’s flirting with us? Or is it that wink that says, “hey, my friends, I’m conning you . . .”
She appears to believe that the world is going to end and everyone, except Wasilla residents of course, will all die. Wasilla residents will still hang around of course, because they’re the only good guys. They will deserve each other.
Sarah Palin may be what we get, but surely the United States of America deserves better than this.
Or do we?
Remember :
We have met the enemy and he is us

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Flying Metaphors

To bail, or not to bail .. . that is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous press releases,
Or to take arms against a sea of financial idiocies,
And by opposing end them?
When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is, Stop Digging.
Well, when you see a few ships that look to be capsizing, you don’t drain the entire ocean (swamp??) to save those ships.
The metaphors are a’ flying all over the land.
And our Congresspersons, the ones we elect ritually to bring the bacon back to our part of the Nation, while decrying the pork going to all other parts, are engaged. They are on the case . . . of metaphorizing the issue—you do remember the issue, don’t you? The collapse of much of our financial house of cards, as our President put it so eloquently recently.
As citizens, what are we to do?
The question that keeps floating to the forefront of my limited brain is, how would I know whether the most recent bailout proposal is good, or bad? My wife and I are retired, so it matters a lot to us whether we will have any money next month. Should I send an e-mail, call my Congressman, rally the troops for a march on Washington?
Mainly, I just keep wishing that our Congresspersons would stop treating us as idiots, even if, in this instance, we are. It’s really hard to trust someone who keeps up this endless stream of idiotic metaphors, or, even worse, blaming the other side of the aisle. Yes, we know there is a lot of blame to go around. Later, guys, much later.
Right now, we need you to begin fixing the problem. We know that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” (I feel ever so much better knowing that) but how about a start?
It would be really helpful If someone in a position of trust would lay out first a serious definition of the problem. I know that banks and insurance companies are collapsing all around us. But that’s an effect of the problem, not The Problem. We all pretty much know now that many banks made many, many bad home loans, and that they packaged those loans into bundles, mixed with some good ones in hopes that investors wouldn’t notice. But is that the whole problem? I mean, if we’re attempting to fix The Problem, it would be helpful if we understood what The Problem is that we are all trying to fix.
Then, it would be helpful if someone could lay out the alternatives, ranging from doing nothing (sounds like a really bad one) to forking out $700 billion to somebody, currently undefined, to buy something, currently undefined.
Now the someone could be Congress, or it could even be the Press (I hesitate to mention “The Media” because that would include all the TV idiopundits). We need a little leadership here guys. Is anyone resembling a leader out there?
And have you heard that Obama is the Anti-Christ . . . and Sarah Palin is a witch (or is she a witch hunter??)
Confused in Concord.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Overdrawn at the Integrity Bank

John McCain—Big Mac-- stands outside the First National Bank of Integrity & Honor. He admires its solid and graceful façade. He turns to his campaign manager Steve Schmidt.
Big Mac: “Love this bank. It really stands for something, and looks the part.”
Steve replies: “Yeah, I’ve often thought about trying to acquire an account here, but stuff keeps getting in the way.”
Big Mac: “Well Steve, they’re really fussy here. They only provide accounts for people of certain characteristics. You know, when I was a POW I made a sizable deposit here, thanks to my daddy and granddaddy.”
Big Mac caresses the gray marble, briefly and then walks briskly to the imposing brass and glass doors. He swings open the door and walks inside. It is quiet, almost hushed. A teller looks up, smiles at him and asks: “May I help you Senator?”
Big Mac: “Yes, my friend, you can help me. I need to make a sizeable withdrawal from my account, which is why I came in person.”
Teller: “Yes sir, just a moment while I check your account.”
Steve Schmidt: “This place is amazing. So quiet.”
Big Mac: “yeah, well the bank is all about integrity and honor, so a lot of blabbing is frowned upon.”
Teller returns: “I’m sorry sir, but there seems to be a problem with your account.”
Big Mac: “Problem? What’s the problem?”
Teller: “Well sir, it appears that you are overdrawn, and you have exceeded your overdraft line.”
Big Mac: “What? You’re obviously mistaken. My account is quite large. You know, I used to be a POW in Vietnam.”
Teller: “Yes sir, that’s where your account received most of its credits. But it seems you have been withdrawing steadily over the past twenty years and you are now officially tapped out.”
Big Mac: “Young lady, you are mistaken. I want to speak with one of your supervisors. Now!”
Teller turns to a nearby supervisor:"Sir?”
Supervisor: “Yes, how may I be helpful?”
Teller: “The Senator doesn’t seem to understand that his integrity account is now overdrawn. He wants to make additional withdrawals, but he has no remaining credits.”
Supervisor looks at the account statement: “Sir, I’m afraid the teller is correct. You have no more credits in your account and you are in fact overdrawn.”
Big Mac: “But how can that be? I’m a POW, you know.”
Supervisor; “well it seems you have been withdrawing steadily. That messy business when you left your wife and took up with that rich heiress created a sizable withdrawal.”
Big Mac: “But I married Cindy . . .”
Supervisor: “Doesn’t matter. You had an affair and then abandoned your disfigured wife at a really bad time for her. That was an expensive withdrawal of honor. Also, your role in that Keating scandal required another big withdrawal. And then there’s all these smaller withdrawals made in your name by your colleague Steve Schmidt. ”
Big Mac: “What? Steve, have you been withdrawing on my integrity account?”
Steve: “Well, you told me to do whatever was required to win. Win, you said, win at any cost.”
Supervisor: “Now see, that kind of talk creates ripples and each ripple causes a withdrawal.”
Big Mac: “Well if I have no credits left, how about a loan? I need to make some withdrawals with my running mate Gov. Palin.”
Supervisor: “A loan . . . oh no, I’m afraid a loan is out of the question Senator. We only make loans when we are certain to recover the debt. In your case, I’m afraid you simply don’t have the time left, plus you seem to insist on remaining active in a political life til the end. That more or less eliminates the possibility of repaying and almost guarantees more withdrawals. No, sir, I’m afraid your integrity account will need to be closed. We have standards you know. Sorry sir. Maybe in your next life.”

Saturday, September 27, 2008

And the winner is . . .

Debate One . . . and the winner is . . .
This first debate was initially about . . . whether John McCain would actually show up. Well, he did. Since it dealt with his supposed strength, foreign policy, I imagine that he was supposed to wipe the floor with Obama, that poor inexperienced foreign policy novice. He didn’t. Mind you over half the debate was actually about finance, about which McCain is the novice, except when it comes to cozy relationships (remember McCain and the “Keating Five” scandal?).
McCain’s’ main argument was that Obama is dangerously naïve when it comes to serious stuff like war and peace, whereas he is ready to step in and assume command with no training. The problem with his argument is that he has an actual record. We know that he was wrong about Iraq, and wrong about Afghanistan. Those wrong-headed decisions on his part, which he still refuses to face up to, represent the real danger to our country. It leaves me breathless, hearing him tell us how experienced he is. Is Iran next on his list of countries to invade? Is that really his main foreign policy position—when in doubt INVADE?
And then, talk about dangerous, his selection of Sarah Palin as his VP running mate is perhaps the most dangerous and reckless decision any presidential candidate has ever made. Sarah Palin makes Dan Quayle seem almost reasonable. We know that Sarah knows nothing--she seems to have spent her lifetime avoiding any serious studying. We also know that she thinks it’s ok to appoint her high school chums (who also don't know anything) to high level government positions. We also know that McCain himself would flunk any test of reasonableness on appointees, given his closest advisors—I shudder to think about the state of our economic health with Phil Gramm at the helm of the Treasury, especially given the fact that McCain himself has told us he knows little to nothing about the subject.
So, did the debate settle anything? Probably not. Everything we know about McCain was on display. Obama scored no knock-out blows, but McCain failed to dent the Obama armor.
McCain seems, increasingly, just a very old man, way past his prime, and ready to relax and retire to one of his seven homes.
Which makes his choice of Palin even scarier.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Conflicts and Clarity

I used to work for one of the Big 8 accounting firms, Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co. It was not by choice mind you. PMM had bought our management consulting firm, so I became automatically a member of PMM. While working in the Washington office, one of our senior partners from the New York office went to prison for his role in hiding from the public the true financial state of the Penn Central railroad, just before it declared bankruptcy.
I have watched now several more times where accounting partners from the firm, now KPMG, continued this apparently long-standing practice and were called on it. Apparently, the firm never learned its Penn Central lesson.
Then came the big financial shakeup, when accounting firms were chastised. The problem was, though, that they all came to the wrong conclusion. The geniuses in charge of examining accounting misdeeds somehow concluded that the problem was that accounting firms also had consulting arms and those consulting arms had created this big conflict of interest. That is, the consulting arms would step in and grab a piece of the pie, creating, they thought, a conflict of interest. So the solution was—separate the accounting firms from their consulting entities.
Excuse me??? When I worked for PMM, the accountants generally kept us at more than arms length from their clients. They ruled the roost. We were the poor country cousins whom they tolerated to live in the back bedroom.
So what is the real problem? Well, I believe strongly that the real conflict of interest is that the auditing firms, like KPMG, receive their fees from the firms they are auditing. Now that is a serious conflict of interest. It is the same conflict of interest that exists between firms that rate bonds and other financial instruments and the firms issuing those instruments. In both cases, the firms being examined can fire the audit-rating agencies if they don’t like the results.
A solution? Well, I would argue that we need an entirely new accounting approach. In this new approach, accounting firms and rating agencies would be hired, after competitive bidding by an independent federal agency to carry out the audits of major companies. The companies being audited would have no choice. They could complain if they believed the accounting practices were incorrect, but they could not simply fire the auditors. Would this create a new bureaucracy? You betcha. The federal agency could be some new government-private sector morph creature. That is a detail. Whether all companies would have to submit to this new approach, or only firms above some size is another detail that would need to be discussed and resolved.
But the key is the separation of audit firms and rating agencies from the firms being audited. The single biggest problem facing the Nation now is the absence of clear information about the financial health of the large financial firms that now threaten the very survival of the nation. No one knows the real worth of their holdings. Part of that problem is complexity. But a very large part is the active collusion of the accounting firms with these financial giants to cloud that picture. That practice must now stop.