Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rhetoric & Reality

At what point do you say, “hmmm, maybe this is a bad idea, or perhaps a good idea badly executed.”

Our president has now had to ask for two waivers of his "no-lobbyist in high positions" principle.  So, is his idea bad, or what? I submit that, like most things, the idea has merit, but when cast as some absolute, it doesn’t work.  Absolutes rarely work in practice. They’re the stuff of religious ideology, which we know is generally useless.

The key here, it seems to me is to proffer the policy—we need to curb the power of lobbyists in making public decisions. Having said that, we need to acknowledge that not all lobbyists are inherently bad, or evil. Much like, surely we know that not all Republicans are bad, or evil. So long as Obama keeps the decision processes open for external scrutiny, unlike the Bush-Cheney axis of evil, we should be able to determine the effect of lobbyists on public decisions.  The central issue always is the content of a decision and its potential effects on the commonweal.

And on another front, our President has announced that his approach to governance is to focus on whether government actually “works.”  Ronald Reagan famously proclaimed that “Government is not the solution, Government is the problem,” and he then set about to prove his axiom by appointing generally inept people to run his government, much as George W did. President Obama seems to be saying that he wants to weed Government programs, retaining those that “work” and eliminating support for those that do not “work.” That seems unarguable.

However (there’s always a “however”), this raises the definition of “work”, or how would anyone know a Government program is “working?”  As an ex-evaluator, I am keenly aware that, often with Government programs, “working” is in the eye of the beholder. When one is benefiting directly, or even indirectly, from a Government program, it is likely to be viewed as highly effective.  DARE, a drug abuse prevention program operated nationwide in the public school system is viewed largely as ineffective. Yet we continue. The Head Start program, widely heralded, was found by several major evaluation studies to be at best marginally effective, but the studies were criticized for adopting unrealistic performance measures. Too many people saw benefit, with or without any data.

As we have noted in earlier Blogs, Congress generally has no clue to which programs work and which do not. Congress seems to view success in terms of which districts receive public money. If my district is receiving the public largesse, that program must be effective.  Congress seems to have no larger view and its oversight is little more than a political gesture.

So, if President Obama is serious, he will have to hold lengthy and open debate forums to reach consensus on the definitions of success.  Then he will have to look to the evidence base to determine which programs actually have objective evidence of effectiveness. Only then will he understand whether Government is “working”, something Reagan never even attempted.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another Viewpoint

We watched one of the films in our own film library last night, "The Man Who Would be King", a Rudyard Kipling tale of Brits trying and failing to become rich in the wilds of Afghanistan (well, it was Kafiristan in the film, but anyway).  It also wasn’t so long ago that I finished reading “The Places in Between”, a travel tale of a Scottish journalist-author who walked through Afghanistan, following roughly the trail of Babur, the 13th century emperor who traversed the country.

I came away thinking, “Gee, I hope President Obama has seen/read of these wild tales.”

When I finished reading the Places in Between, I came away with one conclusion: the Afghans are deeply rooted still in the 13th century. For reasons I can only dimly fathom (religion comes to mind) the entire land remains beyond the reach of the enlightenment.  All attempts to conquer the land have failed, from the Brits to the Russians and now the Americans.  Our warriors and others of their ilk, understand how to capture and subdue territory and peoples who at least approximate the western world in terms of civilization. But in Afghanistan, unless we are to literally station troops in every village, we cannot subdue or civilize a land in which the people continue to live in the past—the deep, dark past, way beyond the reach of our systems of laws, government, education, et al.

When Secretary Gates now warns against sending too many troops to Afghanistan, I think he may well be correct that we simply cannot afford the cost of such a huge mission. But then, I continue to listen and hear . . . nothing from our defense secretary on what we do instead. Sending a few thousand troops seems senseless. He and others assert that we cannot subdue Afghanistan simply by occupying the few cities; that, unless we bring order to the vast countryside of tiny villages, the Taliban will continue to creep back into power.  But how to do that, in a country where everyone resides somewhere in the mid-1300s.?

I await answers from our Defense Secretary.

Meanwhile, on another front, Republicans back in Congress, reeling from their losses, also seem rooted in the past. Their greatest fear: Obama and his Democrats will succeed in subduing the depression willed to the country by Republicans. Mr. Hoover would be proud of these fearless fighters from the past.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gonzo Accounting

So, I was speaking to the builder who has bought the wreck of a house next door—formerly owned by one of the true pigs in our county. It required four dumpsters to simply empty the house of literal garbage, before he could even begin the job of restoring the house.

At any rate, I was talking to him about the work—he has slowed down to a bare crawl over the past several months. Turns out, the local bank is partly at fault. They turned off the spigot. He has a loan with them to finance his cash flow until he can finish and sell the house.  Basically, they are not releasing any more money, presumably because of the Second Great Depression. They were bragging to him that they got 4.5 Billion dollars—the government forced them to take the money.  Yet, they won’t release the $40,000 he needs to continue and hopefully finish the construction work that will allow him to sell the house. So, he has had to turn to a different bank for the money. So, what is his bank doing with the 4.5 billion dollars? Who knows? Decorating the CEO’s office? Maybe. Apparently banks don’t practice the concept of “transparency.”

And that brings us to our lesson for today: transparency.

In reading an article in today’s NY Times, they were discussing the failure of rating agencies to reveal the truth about the gonzo investment schemes foisted on the public by banks and their “investment” partners. The problem? Well, it turns out there’s a (are you ready?) conflict of interest. Wow! Really? Wonder why that might be? Well, you see, the companies being rated by these “rating agencies” are also the ones who pay the rating agencies.  Sort of like “pay to play.” Not quite outright bribery, but very close.

So, our genius economic system overseers have decided that the system by which rating agencies get paid must change. Amazing, gents.

But hold on, is that the only problem?

I would submit, Not. I have this nagging suspicion that the rating agencies are partly either incompetent and/or they are dealing with an opaque system, in which truth is revealed only like peeling an onion, and the rating agencies can only peel back a few layers.

It seems to me that a second group is even more culpable in this racket. That second group is . . . drum roll please . . . the entire accounting profession. When the government whines that they don’t know where the banks are spending all that bailout money, they imply that they don’t have the information (ahhh . . . images of the CIA and weapons of mass destruction come to mind). Now, where might such information be available? Well, turns out that public bodies like banks and other financial institutions are supposed to have things called accounting systems. Those accounting systems are designed to record all transactions—to the penny. We even have systems called audits, by which outside financial accounting firms examine the financial records of public bodies and determine whether those companies books accurately reflect the true financial situation of the companies being audited, again, to the penny.

Now, guess who pays these financial accounting firms that are doing the audits? Well, the companies being audited pay them.  And, companies “shop” for audit firms, much like you shop for automobiles—only in this case the companies are more interested in simpatico, than mere price. If audit firms get too “objective” or too “independent” the companies can simply go elsewhere for their audits. Think there’s a relationship between the degree of opaqueness and the accounting partners’ behavior toward the company CEO’s?

So, much like the rating agencies, it would seem that we need to scrap the entire system by which accounting firms audit the books of public companies—that is, the system needs to be blown up entirely, and we need to start over with some brand new system.

So, President Obama, you need to put your best brains to work on devising a new accounting system for the United States. To point you in that direction, I suggest you consider designing a system in which all public companies (private companies doing business in the public marketplace, e.g., selling stocks, trading investments, etc.) pay into a shared fund to be overseen by the federal government, maybe the Treasury Department, or some new quasi-governmental agency). That shared fund would represent the proceeds by which this new entity would contract for accounting services to audit these companies. The accountants so hired would change every 2-3 years. The companies being audited would have no say—none, nada—in who gets hired to audit their books. The audits would have to follow a standard set of accounting principles.

With such a system, perhaps rating agencies, also now hired and paid by an independent agency, would have the necessary data by which to assess the degree of risk attached to companies in their financial transactions.

Now that’s Change I Can Believe In!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Big Tent

Watching Fox News, reading about the (ex?) Nazi pope, and listening for the caveman grunts emanating from Rush Limbaugh is a fascinating exercise in, “is this a great country or what?” Think of it. We just inaugurated an African-American president, to the cheers of millions, while our Fascist-racist brethren are still allowed to grunt on in our public airwaves.  In many countries, one or the other might occur, but not both at the same time. In the Congo, the Fascista are running around the country hacking people up and raping and mutilating women and children.  In the Middle East, religious leaders issue death fatwahs against people who write books.  In China, the glorious leaders excise sentences from Obama’s inaugural speech because he mentioned Communists in a negative way (when they aren't busy shooting people in Tibet).

Yet here, a clown like Limbaugh can rant on in his racist language and people react with, “well, yeah, but he’s an idiot.”

So, I continue to have great hope, despite the worst intentions of republicans and their bigoted allies to rant and rave. It’s a big country, and I guess the tent is large enough to accommodate Fascists, Socialists (there must be a couple left surely) and the rest of us in the middle. Happily, the rest of us in the middle seem to be a growing segment of our population.

So, what’s left for me to rant about?

Well, next might be our financial community.

And regarding them, I have to continue believing that old axiom, “when you are faced with two possible explanations of some dire happening—incompetence, or malevolence—incompetence is usually the preferred explanation.

More, later.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Welcome to a New World

So, it’s here, the long awaited day is now history. My Bush “out-of-office” countdown clock went to "000". My Bush countdown calendar read “0 days left”, with one last Bush inanity, “I hope you leave here and walk out and say, ‘What did he say?’”

The crowds came, roared their approval, booed appropriately whenever Bush or Cheney appeared or were mentioned.  Justice Roberts screwed up the oath of office—is the man incompetent, or what? Aren’t we glad he’s heading up the third branch? Gives one a warm, cozy feeling, eh? So, Obama had a redo, in front of witnesses. I am assured that Roberts actually managed to read the words from the Constitution correctly this time. How reassuring.

I loved looking at the faces of those in attendance, like the woman pictured above. They were fairly glowing, as indeed they should have been.

Bush went off in his helicopter, reminding me actually of Nixon’s departure. Cheney I guess, is headed for his spiderhole in Wyoming. And so, they’re gone, awaiting history’s assessment that they are/were indeed the worst Prez-Veep pairing in the history of the nation. But, in any case, they are now officially toast.

So, now, on this new day, our President is fairly engaged in our battle for survival.  He clearly will not be joined in this momentous activity by his Republican opposition, since they have their own separate battle for survival going on, trying to prove to the world that they are not indeed an historical anachronism.  They seem intent on doing battle with the President, as their chosen strategy to demonstrate relevance. Their strategy is unfortunate, since it will make Obama’s task even more daunting than it already is.  I keep hoping that the few remaining thoughtful people in the republican party will begin speaking out for intelligence.  Fond hope springs eternal.

But on this day after the day after, we are hopeful. The challenges seem immense, but so we imagine were the ones facing FDR in 1933, the year before I was born.  I am thankful that we have someone of the intellect, the honesty, and the ethical stature of President Obama, all qualities lacking in the previous office holder.  So, now, let us all turn to the task. Let us all pull together on the oars, for surely, as in days past, either we all hang together, or we will hang separately.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Open Letter to President Obama

 I wrote a while back to Howard Dean, after he became head of the Democratic National Committee. I was hoping to see a renewal of Democratic Party principles. I am still waiting. It is clear to me that we have principles, and that they need to be asserted boldly and repeatedly. I am now hopeful that our incoming President Obama will do what Howard Dean failed to do—assert real principles and then act on them. I am repeating now what I asked of Dr. Dean. Perhaps President Obama will take up the banner and return the Nation to its proper place among the world’s worthies.

President Obama, we must stand for balance in everything we do.

1.                In economic matters, extremes do not work. Under Bush, we shifted dangerously in the direction of a fascist state—that is, a state in which private owners of businesses dictate government policies. The inevitable result is Enron, et al, as well as the collapsed financial system. We have been drifting in that direction for quite some time now, even under Clinton. Everyone has been so concerned with government regulation, that they failed to notice that unregulated business is as dangerous as unchecked government. One gives you fascism; the other socialism. Private business interests must always be checked to assure that the public is protected. So too must government overseers. Balance in everything is the answer. But balance requires mental agility. The public has little patience—they want the world to operate on autopilot. They need to be convinced that a world in which competing interests are balanced is both an efficient world, and a world that is worthy.

2.                We need to pay for what we need. The Republican Party has been, almost as a matter of policy, fiscally irresponsible. They practice “charge and spend” politics. We will now have to pay for their profligacy. The public—the thinking public—needs to understand that we cannot continue on the course they charted and followed. Mainly the rest of the world will not allow us to continue on this course. They will simply stop buying our debt and then it will end, badly. Taxes are the way we pay for our policies.  Taxes are neither good nor bad, in the abstract. They represent the price of operating our country, or, perhaps, the glue of a civilized society.

3.                Organized religion has become dysfunctional. For reasons I cannot comprehend, religious leaders have lost their way on matters of intellectual thought. Science is now being posed as some alternative to faith—as though people of faith ought to be opposed to rational thought. There is no conflict and there never was. The public must be convinced that leaders who find conflict are charlatans interested only in enhancing their personal power. If God gave us this magnificent universe, God also gave us brains to ponder its majesty. Those who wish to stop science are trying to return us to the dark ages, where they ruled through fear. We dare not return there, but Bush and his coterie of 12th century leaders, opened the door to religious extremism, with all its fearful consequences.

4.                Terrorism continues to grow, and we currently have no effective way to check its growth. It is now clear that policies under Bush have been the growth medium. We are breeding terrorists, and every time we kill innocents, ten terrorists take their place against us. George Bush was presented with a golden opportunity, briefly, to resolve the Middle East mess. But he is an imbecile, and chose this idiotic course of war in Iraq. The Nation has finally kicked the Neo-Cons out of office, but we now need to reverse their disastrous course.  

5.                We must pursue policies that are aimed at preserving the Earth. We need to conserve. We need to pursue alternative energy policies. We need to use economic forces to create a demand for energy-efficiency and energy independence. Under Bush and Cheney, we have pursued policies promoting wasteful energy consumption, mainly because he and his advisers represent the extractive industries. We need to tax wasteful energy consumption, so as to encourage wiser use of Earth’s limited resources.

6.                We must pursue a policy of economic independence for all our citizens. During my career, I worked for seven organizations over a 45 year career. For 20 of those years, I worked for several large and small companies that contributed nothing beyond Social Security for my retirement. Bush and his republican allies have attempted on numerous occasions to threaten that reserve. If indeed we wish to get rid of Social Security, we do not need to “privatize” it. We need to pass legislation that forces every economic entity in the country to pay into a portable retirement system. TIAA-CREF comes to mind—the system used by most universities and non-profits. If the private sector would begin to live up to its responsibilities by a mandatory contribution system, we would not need Social Security. Take the system used by universities and non-profits and replicate it throughout the whole of the private sector. Do not allow companies to wriggle out by use of part-time workers. If they employ part-time workers, they still pay full retirement benefits.

7.                Similarly, we must pass a system of health care reform. Clinton had the best opportunity in 50 years and he allowed the Republicans to take it away.  When Republicans used demagoguery (what health care crisis, they argued disingenuously) we should have used data to demonstrate that, while republicans do not appear to believe that all Americans should have access to health care, democrats do. We need a single payer system.  We need to stand up for what is right here – 40 to 50 million people who have no health care is not right..

8.                Republicans, with their “no-Child-Left Behind” Act, were attempting to scuttle public education. We need to begin working with the states to work on the currently deplorable state of public education. In our area of North Carolina, they seem comfortable with a drop out rate of 35%.  Think of that. We can do better. Indeed, we are losing ground to the rest of the world, and we are at risk of becoming a country of stupid people.

9.                We must examine carefully the structure of government. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was an absurd idea—a solution in search of a problem. Think of it. The CIA and the FBI wouldn’t communicate and were demonstrably inept, so we forced the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the rest to become one entity. An idea only a truly stupid person could embrace.  Structure is not the answer when the problem is an absence of thoughtful consideration of available evidence. It is possible that Mr. Bush could have, indeed should have anticipated 911. He still needs to answer for that failure on his watch. New structures might be required, but Homeland Security and the Patriot Act are not answers to any problem we currently have.

President Obama, you have an opportunity to articulate a new vision of America, one that includes openness, an embrace of democracy through peaceful means, and an impassioned defense of rational policies that seek to better this once-proud nation and indeed the entire world. It is well to remember that societies will be judged ultimately by their treatment of those less fortunates who cannot care for themselves.  We stand for that principle against the forces of darkness unleashed by the neo-cons and the Bush Administration.

Our continued existence as a free society may now be in your hands. Do not waste this opportunity. There may not be another.

Thinking About United Way

The Charlotte Observer  has been filling many pages about the United Way CEO compensation brouhaha. Ms. King is now shooting back, accusing the board of racism after its decisions concerning her employment. All this noise and so little substance.

My experience working with non-profits and their boards extends both to my past consulting work with them, and to my service as a board member and treasurer of a non-profit school for seriously emotional disturbed children.

An observation is that many boards seem to fluctuate between the two extremes in governance: 1) acquiescence/ sleepwalking; or 2) direct management. Neither extreme produces effective performance by the organization or, especially, the CEO. With passage of Sarbanes-Oxley, some boards awakened and began imagining that, to perform effectively as a board, one must manage aggressively and directly. Boards then  sometimes tried to begin working directly with staff below the CEO, effectively adopting the role of defacto CEO, leaving the CEO with little useful to do. That extreme is potentially even deadlier for the organization than the stage of sleepwalking that characterizes many boards. 

To be effective requires a board to understand the need to maintain balance--that they hire the CEO to manage the organization. Their job is to monitor and oversee the CEO--to monitor performance, not to manage directly. It is in the balance successful performance happens.

In the case of United Way, and Ms. King’s apparently excessive compensation, it seems clear to me that the Board was doing its best sleep-walking function. They either pretended not to know what Ms. King was making, or they actively supported the decisions to raise both her pay and her retirement package.  The ultimate screw-up of course was when the Board, having created the problem all by themselves, decided to fire the CEO.  By all accounts, Ms. King created a really effective United Way, one of the best in the country.  To thank her, first they raised her pay, then they fired her. I wonder whether the Board ever considered firing themselves? To those who believe that Ms. King should have backed away from her compensation package, I would ask them, whether they would have done as they now suggest? “People who live in glass houses” comes to mind here. I’m not aware of too many CEOs who refuse Board compensation packages, even ones that are obviously inflated.

I should note that the problem of board governance extends to the issue of Congressional oversight of Federal programs, an issue of some weight now, given the apparently hopeless job being done with regard to The Bailout . Generally, Congress acts much like sleepwalking boards. They have never understood properly how to effect oversight, mainly because they have never understood the need to define outcome performance of Federal programs--how would they recognize a successful Federal program if they happened to see one?

That is the question non-profit boards need to answer. It is, at its most basic, a question posed by program evaluators before they begin an evaluation. If boards adopted the mindset of an evaluator, perhaps they would begin to function more effectively.

But then again, that would require thinking.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Four Days

We approach the day calmly, but with great anticipation. Partly, it is the thought that we are once again bringing intelligence back to the Nation, after eight years of a brain-dead Administration. But more, we hope to renew the Nation’s integrity. In large measure, George W. Bush has dishonored our Nation, turning it into a place that would be recognizable by the man he so readily, and easily defeated, Sadaam Hussein. His legacy is now secure. People have already turned away, looking ahead to renewal. I think, perhaps I simply hope, that at least the thinking people in this nation, be they Republican or Democrat, understand that this train wreck of a country, will take time, great patience, and an unbelievable amount of the nation’s future wealth, to heal.
Democrats are engaged in this healing process, Republicans are still licking their wounds. Whether those Republicans decide to join their Democratic colleagues, or resume their partisan sniping may determine how long and how successful is that healing process.
It is by no means clear to me that the Republican Party has learned anything of significance from their 8-year embrace of George W. Bush. Surely, their elevation of someone as insignificant as Sarah Palin to the number two spot on their ticket is not a good sign.
But we must and will move on beyond her and what she represents. The Nation moved to the brink of a precipice, and then, at the last moment, stepped back.
We must all now observe the progress we make in curing the dreadful ills we have embraced. We cannot allow Democrats or Republicans to once again march us away from our heritage as a Nation rooted in law. We need to return to the concept of Balance in everything we do. Unchecked power is what we fled from originally. Republicans under George Bush tried to return us to the days of royal governance. George Bush was ignorant and his view of the nation was grievously wrong, and dangerous.
When Republicans begin shouting Socialist at proposals brought forth to correct something that needs correcting, as they are now doing, we need to stop them. We need to define the term and contrast it with what we are proposing to do. We can no longer afford to allow Republicans to demagogue entirely sensible proposals.
But also, we need to engage Republicans and Democrats alike in devising solutions. We are a nation largely of two parties, both necessary to the causes we pursue. If Republicans refuse to learn from the past eight years, and decide to obstruct, rather than to participate, we need to clarify for the people what they are doing.
We will see very soon how this new government is going to work. If the thinking Republicans agree to join forces with the thinking Democrats, we can and will solve the problems we now face. If the parties will not work together, we shall all surely sink together.
We must not let that happen.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Legislative Bailout Sale

Here I thought it would be difficult to care any more about President Doofus and his inept administration. But this bailout business is really getting annoying.  The Treasury Department  maintains that it simply doesn’t know where the bailout banks have spent the money we the people have given them, or lent them. We’re talking a few hundred billion dollars, people.  That’s real money.

And why don’t they know? Well, apparently, they neglected to ask, and the banks aren’t talking. In part, the banks claim they don’t know where the money went. They don’t know?? I’m no financial expert, but isn’t that why they invented accounting systems? At least in theory, according to the rules of the game as I last left it when I worked at one of the Big 8 accounting firms, we developed things called accounting systems to track every last penny a company brought in and sent out—every penny.

And, guess what; we invented audit trails, and auditing systems to find all the money companies moved about during each and every year. Companies actually pay auditing firms to come in, examine their accounting systems and certify where all the money went.  So, now the banks are telling us that they either, don’t know, or won’t tell where the money went. Well, on first principles, we really need to tell the banks that they have two choices: 1) tell us exactly, precisely, to the penny, where they spent the money we gave/lent them; or 2) they will receive zero dollars going forward—that’s zero, as in none. Also, we should begin to call in the money. If they can’t repay, maybe they need to go bankrupt after all.

But this issue raises another point about our inept Congress-both branches apparently.  Normally, when Congress legislates something—a solution to some stated problem—what they do is to agree that there really is a problem out there that needs a solution, and that the solution is unlikely to emerge from our glorious and highly efficient and effective private sector.

So, after agreeing that a problem exists, somebody in Congress (a lobbyist mainly) invents a solution requiring Congress to appropriate money to the cause. Key to all this legislating business is that Congress agrees on a mechanism, an institution of some type that will receive the money. Then they agree, and express in the legislation and accompanying regulations, how the money will be spent.  Rarely, perhaps almost never, do they express the ultimate purposes of this legislative largesse in terms that are measurable.

Then they walk away, and wash their hands of that problem. On to the next problem.

Every couple of years, Congress revisits this issue. They call hearings, receive testimony regarding the continued existence of the problem and the continued need for the money. Then they change the subject. Again, on to the next problem.

So, what did they do in this Bank Bailout issue? Well, the Doofus Administration apparently got Congress to agree on a huge problem—that the entire financial system of the world was going to fail unless they ponied up a vast sum of money. Then they got Congress to agree not to ask any tough questions, i.e., they neglected to do the one thing Congress always does—to agree on how the Federal money would be spent.  Apparently, they all agreed on a general purpose—something big, like, “save the world” and then they agreed to give Doofus & Co total authority on how to spend the money. And the Doofus Administration of course, being total idiots, neglected to ask any questions when they gave away the store. “Oh please Mr. Banker. Take our money.”

So, Mr. President-Elect,  I am hoping that one of the things you will try to do is to give to Congress in each and every piece of legislation you produce a clear statement, cast in understandable and measurable terms, of both the means and intended ends of the legislation.  If you can’t do that, then I guarantee that the money you authorize will be pissed away . . . again and again.

So, try guys, try. We know that Congress is generally inept.

It’s up to you, Mr. President-elect. Don’t fail us.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Seating the Senator

To seat or not to seat, that’s the question. The righteous indignation over Gov. Blog’s insistence on naming Obama’s successor is getting amusing. The appointment is tainted. Tainted, tainted, tainted. Oh dear me, a tainted senator. Oh dear me.
I wonder how one knows a tainted senator. I mean, can you detect him/her as he/she walks down the center aisle? Do they smell funny? Or is it anything like the ability on the Seinfeld show to detect bathroom reading material? “Oh, we can’t exchange that book. It’s tainted.”
“Here comes senator Fussbottom. Have you heard? He’s tainted.”
So, why don’t they just seat him already? So what if he’s tainted. Most of the sitting senators are tainted by something, most by things much larger than Mr. Burris’ taint. I mean Blogo really sucks as a governor, and it’s true any appointment by him was likely to be tainted. But as far as we know, Mr. Burris neither gave him any money, nor promised him anything of value, unlike most of the sitting senators.
So, seat him guys. You’re starting to look . . . tainted.

Monday, January 5, 2009

It's Coming

I can see the 20th from here folks. It’s really coming. I must confess, when I was looking at 400 days, or 375 days, it seemed an eternity away. But now, it’s around the corner. I’ve been reading the Letters to the Editor in the Charlotte Observer and reading with great interest those letters from people who are outraged at the growing array of denigrating letters and articles, and not a few  political cartoons. Some people think it’s not ok to dump on President Doofus, like we should respect the office, even if we don’t like him.  But it doesn’t work that way. See, we do respect the Office; we just despise him, because he has invited our derision over eight long years, during which he has overseen death and destruction on a vast scale, without seeming to even take notice.  He has found joy in the Office. He seems to think God has somehow blessed him. But he’s an idiot, and he has managed to prove it on almost a daily basis. No amount of Condoleeza-Laura PR will change that. His co-leader probably qualifies as downright evil, whereas The Shrub is simply absent.

So, we anticipate with great fervor his passing. I know, I know, he isn’t dead, just forgotten if not yet gone.

Maybe soon we can again take pride in being American, instead of keeping one eye on Canada, hoping it’s still open. When we traveled extensively, during the 1960s and 1970s, it was really nice being an American, carrying an American passport.  Even during the worst of the Vietnam Mistake, it was still ok to be American. People understood, even if they disagreed. Maybe we can return to that period. We don’t need to pretend to know everything, or to be right about everything. The rest of the world is all grown up about that. Sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong.  They know that, we should know that also. So, sometimes, we need to listen to lectures, and take heed in someone else’s wisdom.

We live in a spectacularly beautiful country, and we are a mostly moral and good people. We’ve allowed ourselves to be led astray over the past 20 or 30 years. It’s time to eat some humble pie and regain our ethical compass. It’s coming; a good period I think and hope. 

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hotels on the Moon

A hotel on the moon within fifty years. That’s the prediction of a NASA official, in a recent interview on NPR. A hotel on the moon, hopefully not Motel Six. And the moon base will rely on what she called “in situ” materials for supplies of things like oxygen and water; that is, they will generate their own water and air from locally available materials. Then there’s always Mars, which already has a thin atmosphere.
The more I think about such things, the dumber stuff like the Israeli-Palestinian saga seems. We sit here on this spinning planet, at the moment the only one we have, and we keep shooting at each other, like we’re trying to run everyone currently here off the planet. We really are a terminally stupid species. I mean, think of the chain of events since 2001. Saudi Arabians, pissed off at the King, and living in Afghanistan as a result, decide that flying planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon would be a good thing to do . . . sort of, “ hey, we’ll show the king. We’ll blow up some big building in America, his number one ally. That’ll show him we’re a serious crowd. "
So, then president Doofus decides to invade Iraq, just because he could. “Ha, so the Saudi-Afghans blew up one of our buildings. We’ll show them; we’ll destroy Iraq.”
Amazing, huh? And this species wants to open a motel on the moon? Oh, excuse me, a Hotel. And why would that be? Do we need a place to ship more warring parties who can then strap dynamite around their middle and blow up day care centers on the moon?
Maybe we should only allow sane people to travel to and from the moon.
But I’m going to be stuck here, and that’s the hell of it. I desperately want to know how this all turns out—this life on Earth thing, and maybe even the life on the Moon thing. But it’s fifty years off, and that’s a bummer, since it seems unlikely that I’ll make it that far. And if I do, I probably won’t know it.
I think about these things all the time now. I’m having a really good time as a retired, old fellow, playing with art, and my grandchildren. When they smile, I smile inside.
And see, I want to know how they turn out also. Which college will they attend? Who will they marry? What will their kids be like, and which of their kids will stay a few nights at the Hotel on the Moon. Remember that scene in 2001, where the NASA guy traveling to the moon, calls his kid on the videophone to wish her a happy birthday? Well, I want my Great-Grandkid to call me on the videophone to ask me how my day is going (I mean, since I refuse to fly any longer, I guess it won’t likely be me traveling to the Moon Hotel).
See, this is all because we have a brand new year. And lots of things yet to occur, all of which I want to know about . . . well at least all the good stuff. You can hold onto the stuff about George W. Bush. By the way, did you read that Frank Rich article in the New York Times about President Doofus. He calls it, “ A President Forgotten but Not Yet Gone.” Nice that.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Welcome to the Brave New World

Happy New Year All!!!
As George W. Bush, Dickie-Bird Cheney, and Condoleeza slink off to their respective spider-holes located in strategic locations around the nation, let us all wish them farewell on their journeys.
They have precious little time left to do any more damage, so we should all begin focusing on ways to make the New World a better place than they left it.
1. To North Carolinians, how about resolving to begin using turn signals--you know, the little thingie hanging off your steering wheel that allows you to indicate an intent to turn one way or the other. It would be nice.
2. To Illinoisans, how about figuring out a way to stuff a sock into your Governor's mouth? Again, nice.
3. To Congresspersons of either stripe, how about thinking before you open your respective mouths? It would be new for you, I know, but at least consider it.
4. Specifically to Nancy Pelosi, who took impeachment off the table, without considering the effects that might have on future imperial presidents, how about turning over your job to the official House doorman, who at least knows what he is doing?
5. To the incoming President Obama, consider my suggestion to transfer all Bush embedded politicos, now careerists, to a new office in Northern Alaska, intended to watch over Alaskan blue ice. They needn't do anything; just watch over it. They need something they can't really screw-up.
6. To the Religious Right, who especially hate Gays and Lesbians, how about this year featuring the Golden Rule on every occasion you threaten to open your mouths and say anything? Oh, and it isn't Gay weddings that threaten the sanctity of marriage, it's heterosexual weddings . . . half of which end in divorce. Think about it people.
7. To Stewart and Colbert, I know you won't have Shrub to kick around any longer, but think Fox News. They're much funnier than Shrub, and not half as threatening.
8. To Paris Hilton, go get a real job. I know you have no talent, but maybe a receptionist at Bernie Madoff enterprises?
9. To the American Newspaper Industry, try and survive. We need you to give us a daily chuckle.
10. To all my friends and family members, remember, I don't make the news, I only report my reactions to it. So, put a smiley face on when you read my grumbling, non-sequiturious ramblings.
And mostly, have a Happy 2009.