Monday, January 31, 2011

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

Everyone is currently sitting around second-guessing our President regarding the messes in Tunisia, and now Egypt—our great and good friends the Egyptians. Mainly, it would seem that Egypt was the only reasonable actor in the Middle East, in signing a peace accord with Israel. Anwar Sadat, that ultimate pragmatist looked for peace as a solution to Egypt’s economic woes, and seemed to have succeeded in 1979 with the Camp David Accords and the final peace treaty in 1979. So, Egypt became a “friend” in Middle Eastern terms, as distinct from say, Syria, Iraq or Iran. Well, to be fair, Iraq was our buddy when they attacked Iran—again the “enemy of our enemy is our friend.” The Donald even got caught shaking hands with Sadaam in those olden days.
So, now, President Obama is befuddled. Mubarak, a terrorist to his own people, has been our best buddy for lo these 30 years. What’s a guy to do, now that his own people despise him and desperately want him ousted? Obama is trying to be cool, advising tolerance and peaceful adherence to rules of law. I’m guessing our Prez wants Mubarak out almost as much as the Egyptian people, but under what conditions? In the Middle East, Islamists are always hovering like vultures waiting for some dead bodies to appear, so they can move in to “restore the people’s trust in Islam”. Mainly, the Ayatollahs of the world always want to come in to take over so they can be the next terrorist in line to rule the people with an iron hand—see Iran 1979.
So, while he doesn’t need another Iran next door to Israel, one, i.e., Lebanon, is quite enough thank you, he probably cannot continue to stand by and watch the bloodshed in Cairo. The far right extremists in this country (The Faux News Network, et al) who are anxious that he fail at anything and everything want him to do something, anything almost, so they can pronounce his actions, or inactions, incorrect.
Mubarak, meanwhile seems clueless, as I guess he has been for pretty much the past 30 years. He has appointed his head of Intelligence as Vice President, thereby next in line. Wow, that should thrill the protesters. Why not go all the way and appoint the head of his Police force? Bet they’d love that. I wonder what he is saying about Mohamed AlBaradei, his very own Nobel Laureate comrade in opposition?  A lot of muttering under his breath I suppose.
This all leaves me wondering . . . is Obama simply the unluckiest guy in the world? I mean, wow!. He runs a magnificent campaign to head our government, after eight years of disastrous rule by Shrub and his gang of neo-con thugs. He doesn’t even manage to get into office before Bush’s economic house of cards collapses, leaving Obama to pick up the pieces, and it’s all just pieces. Then just as the Bush Middle East mess begins to calm down, governments there begin falling—Tunisia, Lebanon, and now Egypt. I suppose the Saudis can’t be far behind, seeing as how they run such a fine democratic government. I’m sure the Saudi people are thrilled with the king’s rule. Oh, I forgot—Osama Bin Laden is a Saudi. Hmmm.
All this makes for a fine argument for us to get the hell out of oil. Anyone for a natural gas-powered car??? See T. Boone Pickens on that front.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Americans Divided

So, it would seem that the President’s State of the Union speech went about as one might have expected, given the divided state in which we live. Happily, the loyal opposition was at least civil, with no cries of “liar, liar, pants on fire” from the rabid ranks. The “responses” from Ryan and Bachman were predictable, although Bachman is not exactly predictable. Maybe if one accepts that she babbles on, with some peculiar disconnect between brain and speech, then one can say she was “as expected.” Perhaps what most amazes me about Bachman is that Minnesotans elected her. I mean, were she from Texas, one could sigh and say. “well, yeah but she’s from Texas.”

And on another front, the commission examining the causes of Great Depression II, brought on by our republican friends, was a mixed bag—the banks were irresponsible and greedy (duh). Alan Greenspan was an idiot (duh) and Ben Bernanke performed as he always does—protecting his friends in high places. The loyal opposition is publishing its version of that grand old party. Its conclusion? It was the Government’s fault. Yep, greedy, inept bankers played no role. It was all the fault of those nasty government people, who sucked the bankers into giving out bad loans. Ahhhh, really, guys? "The government made me do it” is the best you got??? It never ceases to amaze me how the republican footmen, baggage carriers, and bellhops for the Nation’s wealthy continue to treat all Americans as idiots. Oh, I forgot. Americans apparently like being treated as idiots. Perhaps in 2012, Americans will act predictably to elect Jared Loughner as President. He’s honestly crazy, probably hears voices, and loves guns.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Speech

I have concluded that there is way too little news being chased by our full-court press “News” media. We have been given fair warning that, whatever President Obama says during his State of the Union speech is largely irrelevant. What matters almost exclusively, is what the “pundits” say (we really need a new term here, perhaps “bobble-heads”).

They have been telling us for a week now what they think the President will, or should say. Some have been telling us for a week what they intend to say in response. Again, since they have already drafted their “responses” in the absence of information about what he will actually say, we need a new term—“response” isn’t accurate, since the word means a reply or an answer. Their comments on the President’s intended speech are more in the nature of, “what I would do or say were I the ruler of the world”. The key here is, they aren’t, so why do we actually care what the bobble-heads say?

Now journalists have been speaking their minds for a very long time—as long as there have been journalists. Some people are paid to report to us the “news”, i.e., the factual goings-on in the world. Others are paid to tell us what they think the facts mean. But, because of people like Rupert Murdoch, and others of his ilk (the Koch brothers come to mind), the news business has been debased along both dimensions, the factual reporting, and the “telling us what it all means”. We now understand that journalism, as we once knew it, is dead. What we now have is a set of PR outlets that are intended to sway public opinion one way or another. And, we need to be clear, there is no ethical dimension guiding these PR outlets. These are entirely business propositions aimed at increasing the coffers of gold of those who own these PR outlets. In the case of the “responses” to the President’s address, we will hear how each bobble-head believes the President has deviated from what the bobble-head would have said. In a few cases, Michelle Bachman and others of her ilk, we will hear what they would say, were we to elect any of them President (Bachman, ugh . . .makes one want to vomit, huh?).

It would be nice to know where the people went who used to care about the common folks, and about the concept of community. I wonder whether any of them will show up. Tune in to discover what shocking revelations the bobble-heads have uncovered.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Efficiency and the Private-Public Sector Debate

Well, it’s difficult to characterize the distortion of reality that masquerades as a debate about public-private management as a real debate. There appear to be fixed opinions, remarkably like those occurring around the subject of religion. In some recent blog (there are so many) someone wrote in to say, “would you like to have things run by the Post Office, or Medicare, or the EPA, or the Federal Reserve?” He expected, I suppose, that everyone would be horrified at such a possibility. “Heaven forfend . . . the Post Office managing our private businesses . . . I would be shocked, shocked to see such a dastardly turn of events . . .”
Actually, as I read the comment, I was thinking, ‘Hmmm . . . who would I rather see running things . . . the Post Office, or the Bank of America (or choose your own—Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan, etc.)? Let’s see, my mail is delivered to my door six days a week, more or less regardless of the weather. The Bank of America, and the other financial geniuses, on the other hand, managed to crash the entire economy of the world, because they didn’t bother to check whether the securities they were selling were actually worth anything, or whether the mortgages they were issuing could actually be repaid?? Yeah, they're the guys I want to run everything.
And almost every time I think of private sector management, I think of The Peter Principle, and the Greed Principle at work, guiding our largest private sector institutions. Maybe the person who reflexively prefers private sector to public sector management has never actually worked in any of those domains. Or maybe, that person is just brain dead.
I have worked in both the public and the private sectors—large and small for-profit companies; large and small not-for-profit companies; and of course the government itself . . . that would be large government I suppose. Oh, and I have also worked with (in a consulting capacity) small to medium sized governments—local, county, state, and regional.
Also, like most people, I interact with big and small “Bidness” as a consumer, and as a recipient of public sector largesse—Social Security, Medicare, the IRS (I’m a payer-in there).
And frankly, my interactions with these various public or private sector entities convinces me that the distinction between goodness or badness, efficient, or inefficient, effective or ineffective is NOT public vs. private, regardless of St. Ronald’s contention to the contrary. Large organizations tend to be less efficient and less effective than smaller organizations. So, large government agencies probably do tend to be less efficient than smaller private sector entities. But large private sector entities are also inherently less effective and efficient than smaller private entities. I remember Hewlett Packard in the old days (when dinosaurs roamed the earth). I studied them as an engineering student and they seemed to me to be the epitome of an advanced technology company. And when they turned to making printers, they produced wonderful printers. If I needed advice or help, I called them. I would actually speak to an HP engineer, who invariably solved my problem. Then enter Carly Fiorina (remember Carly?). She wanted them to grow, so she could earn bigger bucks. So, she arranged to merge with Compaq, a maker of mediocre PCs. The net result was a disaster for HP, which has now morphed into a very large mediocre technology company, one of many.
If we examine industry after industry, we find ineptitude growing as the companies grow in size. Most of the problems can be attributed to greed and the Peter Principle. Some as in the financial industry seem to be more than that—it may be that some industries are inherently prone to ineptitude when they lack some rudder to keep them on track. In finance, there apparently is nothing guiding/restraining them, short of federal regulation to keep them from eventually doing monumentally stupid things.
So as the jackasses on the right in our Nation continue to chatter on about the wonders of capitalism and the private sector, and the evils of government, I wish more people would weigh in to provide some balance. Because balance is what is sorely needed at the moment. But as I have noted in earlier posts, balance is always hard to achieve and harder still to maintain. It requires intelligence and patience, two things in especially short supply in America today.
And on another planet, the Governor of Alabama has pleaded guilty to being an offensive asshole as a public official.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Republican Gambling

Today in the Washington Post, Mark Thiessen, a right wing columnist from that bastion of right wing thinking, the American Enterprise Institute, wrote a strong argument in favor of the Republicans in government challenging Obama to a duel regarding the debt ceiling limit. He argues that republicans should put on a full court press, daring the president to call their bluff—another Gingrich-Clinton duel, with the stakes being the potential economic demise of the United States. Although Gingrich and his republican allies lost big time when he challenged Clinton to a game of Government Shutdown, Thiessen argues that republicans cannot lose this time, precisely because the stakes are so high. In other words, republicans are willing to gamble the entire financial credibility of the United States on a political bet—in short, they do not care about the outcome for the Nation. If we go down the tubes as a Nation, so be it—they will then blame Obama. That is their chosen political strategy for the future—bet the farm on anything and everything. If they lose, it isn’t their fault—“Obama made me do it.”

Essentially, this is exactly how they got Obama to cave on his health care system legislation, and on the insane issue of extending tax cuts for the űber rich. When republicans challenged him—extend the tax cuts and gut your health care public option, or we won’t extend unemployment benefits. He caved. They knew he would because he cares about the American people, and they don’t. And that is key to their chosen strategy. Republican leaders basically are sociopaths. They make decisions adversely affecting millions of Americans, because they do not, perhaps cannot feel their pain. They do not care.

So, now, with the need for a higher debt ceiling, they may play the big bet—do as we wish, or we crash the economy. They are now most closely akin to the hijackers on the 9/11 airline flights that crashed eventually into the World Trade Center, except this time, it won’t be two huge office buildings that come crashing down in New York City. It will be the entire US economic system.

How does one negotiate with political sociopaths, I wonder??

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Death Panels Republican Style

My wife and I, being in our later years, not too long ago attended a meeting at which was being discussed the utility of stating our “end of life care” wishes. First, the stress was on us stating what we wanted done, or not done. Second, the speaker noted the utility to our children of removing the need for them to have to make such decisions at the worst possible time. So, we wrote our documents, had them notarized, and gave them to our children.

This, republicans have characterized as the “death panels” under what they term as “Obamacare.”

But recently, in Arizona, we can see in action actual death panels, being overseen by its governor Brewer. In her zeal to save money in a state besieged by debt, the governor has cut off Medicaid recipients from a long list of organ transplants, without which the intended recipients will surely die. Some have already succumbed. The governor rationalizes her decision to cut off poor people by mentioning the possibility that many would die anyway, even with the transplants. She is not entirely wrong, of course. Some transplant recipients will die, but not all. The ones who might make it, will now die as certainly as the ones who might not make it.

So, it seems, once again, republicans have put into practice the very thing they accuse the president of intending to do. By now, this is standard Republican Party policy—first denounce the president for something he has no intent of doing. Then do it themselves. And as they begin reconvening, the republicans in charge of the House of Representatives will be working on their first order of business-denying some 40-50 million people health insurance. Surely, as night follows day, another republican death panel objective is being debated.

And on another planet, one of the past leading lights of the Republican Party, Tom Delay will be shipped off to a Federal prison, as he mutters, “I did it, but I didn’t do anything wrong . . . I did it, but . . .”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin are out on the hustings dismissing the charges being flung at them by liberals and progressives that placing gunsight crosshairs on maps of a Congressional district with a Congressperson named thereon, or telling your supporters to reload, or yelling that second amendment remedies are available if voting fails to achieve the desired results are all explosive charges waiting to be detonated by crazy people.

I think most people by now agree that Mr. Loughner can fairly be described as a “crazy person,” even a "dangerous crazy person". His history, his incoherent ramblings appear to demonstrate a person unequal to the tasks of normal daily living and discourse.

That much is not in doubt. However, it seems to me that the ranting of Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Bachmann and others of their ilk can also be dismissed too easily as just normal political discourse. Mr. Krauthammer especially seems to think that War rhetoric is normal in a political contest. That may be right, but when your supporters begin shouting, “traitor” and “kill him” and you do nothing to quell the obvious, uncontrolled rage, you are at the least enabling, if not outright condoning crazy behavior.

I think one can get carried away by Messrs Beck, O’Reilly, Limbaugh, et al. They are, after all, simply actors being paid millions of dollars to say crazy things. To take them too seriously would be akin to thinking of  The Onion News as a serious newspaper. Mr. Murdoch’s hired writers write their scripts at The Faux News Network, and the actors speak their lines, even crying on cue as needed. (makes me wonder whether John Boehner ever took acting lessons with Mr. Beck).

So, the extreme right wing is offended by the fingers of accusation being pointed their way.

Ahh, guys, maybe you need some more testosterone shots to grow your cajones, at least to the size of Sarah’s.

Grow up.

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rep Gifford: We’re Sorry

What can we say to Rep. Gifford, her family and the families of those killed in the latest episode of mindless violence in America? I am confident that Sarah Palin will be “shocked . . . shocked” to learn about this latest outburst of crazy people. Sarah, in case you were unaware, had the following rally promo displayed on her web site:

"SATURDAY 06/12/10, 10:00 AM

Get on Target for Victory in November

Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office

Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly"

Sarah chooses not to connect her words with actions that follow, as night follows day. But Sarah is all about violence. She apparently is so intent on proving her “cajones” in what she perceives to be a man’s world that she goes well beyond the careless in her choice of words. Sarah and her guns—her guns seem to define Sarah. Placing crosshairs on an image of someone on a prominent national web site is simply sick.

But our national problem goes beyond Sarah and the other mindless political opportunists who support and emulate her. We have probably several million people who seem to love this kind of thing. They worship Sarah, and Glenn Beck, and Rush, and their crazed colleagues—why does John Boehner cry so much? That suggests to me a man who is profoundly troubled, which is not a promising sign for a man who is the leader of the right wing in America.

I’m not sure where this takes us, but it is not a great beginning to the New Year.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Great Unraveling

What to say, what to say?
It’s the beginning of a new year, maybe a new era.
Whoa . . . a new era? How come? Just because the hard right has taken over the House of Representatives, and we now have neo-anarchists roaming the halls of Congress??
No, although that’s pretty bad too.
No, I think maybe 2011 may define the beginning of The Asian Era. We had a good run at the American Era thing—we lasted from the 1940s to the end of the 20th century. We out-built everybody, our educational system was transcendent, our middle class, that great engine of democracy, out-produced any other nation on earth. Everyone wanted what we produced. Then, sometime after St. Ronald began leading us to our Morning Again Feel Good period, we began the process of morphing from a great producer to a great consumer, and thence to a nation of . . . well what are we now, now that we lost the financial capacity to out-buy everyone? Maybe the Great Stasis?
I suppose John Boehner and his corporate overlords will change all that. I expect great things of them. Their first order of business, as I understand it, is to kill the health care law—you know, that bill that promised health insurance to the 40 or so million people who couldn’t afford health insurance. John and his buddies in the corporate insurance boardrooms of the world really, really didn’t like that. So, he is going to try to overturn the bill. Now, that will really jump start our moribund economy, huh?
But, really, we’re all just awaiting the official beginning of the Great Stasis—perhaps we can mark it from the election of President Sarah Palin. I mean, we’ve had cheerleaders before—mark George II. And we’ve certainly had dumb presidents before—remember St. Ronald, George I, and his doofus son, George II. But we’ve never really had anyone quite as dumb as Sarah. Too bad, she’s not blonde—at least we’d have some explanation of her mental incapacity, and would be able to make the usual dumb blonde jokes. But, no, she’s a definite brunette (could she be dying her hair just to fool us??).
So, I will just wait and watch to see how all this unravels—hmmm . . . maybe our new era could be The Great Unraveling, and the republican party that has helped to bring it about could morph into The Great Unraveling Party—or GUPs (guppies for short). How’s that Hopey, changey thing working out for you America?? Sarah’s coming . . .