Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Greater Fools

James Surowiecki writing in the July 5th New Yorker presents us with the startling news that if we were more financially literate as a nation we might have avoided some of the problems of the past two years. George W. Bush called on the country to "build an ownership society". He encouraged and trumpeted the news of the soaring rate of homeownership in the U.S. and extolled the virtues of giving individuals more control over their own financial lives. But we discovered there was a bleak reality--the subprime loans, the mountains of credit-card debt and shrinking pensions. The fact of the matter is that Americans don't have a clue.

James Surowiekci writes that our financial ignorance is startling. Annamaria Lusardi, a Dartmouth economist and the head of the Financial Literary Center, has conducted studies about what Americans understand about finance. About half couldn't answer two questions about inflation and interest rates correctly and slightly more sophisticated topics baffled the majority. Most people don''t know the terms of their mortgage or the interest rate they're paying. At a time when Americans have borrowed more than ever, Americans can't explain what compound interest rate is.

These issues become very serious when individuals are being asked to take more responsibility for their own financial decisions. Pensions have been replaced with 401 (K)s and more people have to pay for their own health insurance. Because the marketplace is so varied and the options are so diverse, economic decisions have become more numerous and complex than ever. And this makes people ripe for exploitation and fraud.

A study by economists at the Atlanta Fed found that 32% of people in the lowest quarter of financial literacy thought they had a fixed mortgage when it was really an adjustable rate . A study of subprime borrowers in the Northeast found that people in the bottom fourth of calculating skills 20% had been foreclosed upon, compared with just five percent in the top quarter.

One of the possible solutions to this is contained in the Wall Street reform bill--the creation of a consumer financial portection agency. But what Surowiecki urges is the need for proper financial education. A program like drivers' ed for financial literacy. In the few states where financial education is mandated in school, there has been a surprisingly large impact on the savings rate.The Center for American Progress found that education and counselling by non-profit organizations have helped low-income families buy and hold onto homes even during the housing bubble.

The Consumer Agency and financial education are controversial because economists call our illiteracy "rational ignorance"--inattention that is justified because of the costs of paying attention outweigh the benefits. As Surowiecki notes, few decisions affect us more directly than the ones we make (or make by default) about our money.

One anecdote is revealing. In a German study, 80% of those surveyed described themselves as confident in the answers on a questionaire, even though only 42% got even half the answers right. This apparently is known as the Dunning-Krueger effect: people who don't know much tend not to recognize their ignorance, and so fail to seek better information. The least knowledgeable people ,according to the Atlanta Fed, were also the least likely to do research before getting a mortgage. But more well-informed people are more likely to ask others for help.

I like the whole concept of the Dunning-Krueger effect. I think we can apply it to American politics in general

Public Policy Polling Reveals GOP Nuts

While the RS2000 flaps continues, with cease and desist orders going out to Markos Malitos and Nate Silver at over their claims about fraud in the polling organization, we should not take this to imply their Rs2000 poll of Republicans was also an anomaly.

Yesterday Public Policy Polling reiterates their findings about Republicans. In September PPP found only 37% of Republicans believed Barack Obama was born in the United States whle 42% think he was not and 22% were unsure.

In November PPP found that 52% of Republicans though ACORN stole the 2008 Presidential election while 27% thought he legitimately won it and 21% were unsure. These figures were actually higher than the RS2000 findings.

In December PPP found 35% of Republicans thought Barack Obama should be impeached while 48% thought he should not be and 17% were unsure

Now John Avalon's book Wingnuts inspired a Harris poll to measure some of the extremes in our political landscape.

Here's a short list of the findings:
67% of Republicans believe Obama is a socialist
57% of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim
45% of Republicans believe Obama was not born in the United States and is not eligible to be President
38% of Republicans say that Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did"
24% of Republicans (14% of all Americans) say that Obama "may be the Antichrist"

For the historical record, the antichrist was Nero, whose name using the ancient practice of gematria adds up to 666. There are the other signs of the antichrist that are linked to Nero, who committed suicide in 68AD and was thought to be resurrected and coming back with an army from Persia. It's actually an interesting story.

Cry Havoc

Sometimes I take a break to see whether we have reached a plateau with insanity in our politics. It's clear we have ramped it up even higher.

The Montana Republican Party wants to outlaw "homosexual acts" in the state. What precisely are sexual acts committed by gays that are not committed by straights? Even teabagging.

The Idaho Republican Party has come out for the repeal of the 17th Amendment. Is this a cost-cutting measure to save on the expense of elections for Senators?

13 states are introducing anti-immgration bills modeled after Arizona.

The President's Financial Reform package got side-swiped by the death of Senator Byrd. This almost happened last year with Healthcare Reform, when Republicans insisted he had to be wheeled in at midnight to vote. The Secretary of State in West Virginia claims the Governor will nominate a successor and an election would be held in 2012. The Governor promises not to name himself but will have someone in place for the energy bill debate.

Joe Biden told Democratic party activists at a fund-raiser that at least seven Republican Senators were threatened that they would lose their committee assignments if they did not support the filibusters.

The conference had to recovene on the Wall Street reform bill because Republicans, some of whom are vital to its passage, were opposed to any fees being placed in the banks. Instead, they wanted the government to pick up the cost of the reform. This seems to be an on-going theme--the government should pay for the damage of the Gulf disaster and not the corporation that caused it.

The Tan Man John Boehner made news with his interview with the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow captured some of his madness. But they missed the really salient parts of his remarks. While it is true he wants to raise the age of retirement to 70, more importantly was the fact that he wants to cut social security benefits now and revamp entitlement programs to pay for the wars. It was clear from his whole interview he really doesn't have much of an understanding of any of the issues facing the country. Today in Racine, Wisconsin President Obama ridiculed Boehner's statement that the economic crisis in the country was like "an ant". Boehner also said that Obama was killing the America he grew up in. Perhaps he was referring to the fact that the Cincinnati Reds are no longer the powerhouse team of the late 1950s and early 1960s. And this man wants to be Speaker of the House.

Conservative Utah Senator Bob Bennett, who lost his party's nomination to a teabaggers, spoke to the Ripon Society and blasted the GOP as a party of slogans, not ideas. He actually said Republicans would win back the House and that would be a bad idea since they wouldn't know what to do with it.

Nate the Great Silver at updated his Senate predictions, saying that Democrats gained slightly after the primaries. He's still at about a 55-45 Senate. He does write off Arkansas and North Dakota as 100% lost for the Democrats.

On the Kagan confirmation, all you have to understand is that only one Republican on the Judicial Commitee has to vote for her to have the nomination move to the whole Senate floor.

So enjoy the hearings for the amazing insight they provide us of the inner mind of today's Republican Party. The first day was spent lamenting school integration and the civil rights period--of course in code. But Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions spent his time attacking Thurgood Marshall and his activism. He was in fact referring to Marshall's days as a civil rights lawyer. In one moment, Sessions slipped by saving the Citizens United was today's Brown versus School Board. I guess the last people to be freed in the United States are corporations--or maybe he was referring to foreign corporations. Sessions was also concerned that Elena Kagan thought of the military as second-class ctitizens. When Mr. Sessions was the Alabama attorney-general, he refused to investigate the series of black churches burning down. Maybe a Justice Kagan wouldn't mind army military barracks burning down.

Tom Coburn, who never ceases to amaze me,wanted to know her views of mixed marriages. He went on to say that his state opposed mixed marriages. He really meant same sex marriages. But with the thrust of the Republican comments the first two days, you would think they really do want to repeal civil rights. One of the most repulsive scene was Senator Kyl, slamming Thurgood Marshall as "out of the mainstream".

The best stuff is really from the Christian Right community and their allies. 800 Orthodox Rabbis signed a letter condemning Elena Kagan, which was circulated by the Christian groups. The rabbis said that her confirmation would trigger a wave of "anti-semiticism" in the United States , which would "threaten the existence of the state of Israel". Tim LaHaye, Mr. Left Behind and an officer in the John Birch Society, sent out another apocalyptic warning about Kagan saying she is for "global law" and threatens traditional values. Focus on Your Family and other Christian Rght groups in the Beltway said that Kagan would promote the homosexual agenda and naturally trigger the end of Western civilization as we know it. One of the groups sent around an assertion that Kagan believed that Blue Cross-Blue Shield should cover sex change operations. And of course with her support of Sharia law,this would be bad news.

Kagan got the best line off in the last three days when Lindsey Graham asked her where was she when the Christmas gonad bomber was caught. "On Christmas, like most Jewish people I was at a Chinese restaurant." Ah, New Yorkers.

I know the South Carolina GOP likes to inject anti-semiticism into their campaigns but I disagree with the progressives that this was what Graham was trying to do. By all accounts, he's going to vote for her and the tenure of his remarks that day was to support her against accusations she was anti-military.

Republican candidates this year are being told not to give interviews to the lamestream press because this year's crop of candidates are nuttier than fruitcakes. But we got a big break from Sharon Angle, the teabagger from Nevada, who granted an interview with the Las Vegas press. She is against extending unemployment benefits because people earn more from unemployment than the lesser paying jobs they could have. She is for the government subdizes small businesses. And she is absolutely against abortion under any circumstances even incest and rape because God has a plan. However, she backed away from her previous suggestions that voters might have to kill Harry Reid. She;'s become a nicer, gentler fruitcake.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Endless War--Andrew Bacevich

West Point graduate, a real Vietnam veteran and professor of international affairs at Boston University, Andrew Bacevich has been warning about America's foreign over-reach for nearly a decade. In August, his book "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War" will be published and no doubt it will reinforce his strong belief that long wars are antithetical to democracy and ruinous to the military.

Today, he wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post "Endless War, a Recipe for Four-Star Arrogance", which lays out the deeper issues behind the whole Rolling Stone McChrystal flap. Earlier in the week Frank Schaeffer, a father of a Marine and co-founder of the Religious Right, published a warning on Huffngton Post both to the progressive community and to Americans at large that our all-volunteer military has become a separate culture than our own and is susceptible to the noxious calls from our radical right. He also criticised Democrats and progressives for not taking seriously the separate concerns and responsibilities of our fighting men and women. And then Pepe Escobar weighed in with a humorous piece "Mr. McChrystal. He Dead", which portrayed the sacked general as the Kurtz figure in Apocalypse Now played by Marlon Brando.

A few weeks ago, Barney Frank hosted a panel at the House comprised of Democrats and conservatives on how to cut the military budget over time by about $1 trillion. What I found most interesting were the comments by Lawrence Korb, who was involved in creating the all-volunteer army. He recalled the situation of the Vietnam War and the decision to create an all-volunteer army was for the expressed purpose of not repeating a prolonged conflict. The all-volunteer army was not created to wage war ceaselessly and wherever whim decided.

The idea of the all-volunteer army was to create the best fighting force in the world--which it is. But the dangers of that appear everyday. This week the California National Guard held a conference in San Francisco on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for the purpose of educating the public of its pandemic occurence within the community of returning veterans. An important side issue was to encourage lobbying for the National Guard to receive mental health benefits, which they currently lack. On the topside, the Washington Post published an article today raising concerns about the rapid turnover in generals throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan wars claiming their preparation is inadequate for fighting such prolonged conflicts.

Earlier this week I ranted about COIN, the counter-insurgency doctrine which is based on past failures and requires substantial civilian in-put, which is not available either in terms of capable talent or the financial resources. Supporters point to the success of the Surge in Iraq, which enabled us to create the conditions for our withdrawal but not on its failure to generate any genuine political reconciliation among the Iraqis. One of the key components for the Surge, as candidate Barack Obama pointed out, was the Sunni Awakening, which rejected the insurgents. As we have given over military control to the Iraqis, almost all the Sunni leaders of this group have been assassinated by the government. Today, the Iraqi government still has not resolved the issue of forming the next government after elections months ago.

General McChrystal in his Rolling Stone debut criticized Vice President Biden's proposal for fighting on the border of Afghanistan and the nearby Northern Frontier of Pakistan with the aim of eradicating Al Qaeda there. McChrystal called it a recipe for "Chaosistan". But today's admission by CIA director Leon Panetta that there only exists 50-100 Al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan today raises again the issue whether Biden was right. The escalation of the war in Afghanistan has triggered for the first time the Taliban becoming directly involved in training terrorist wannabes against the United States as witnessed the recently convicted Times Square bomber. Are we not creating the situation for permanent blowback from this war?

Back to Andrew Bacevich. he writes that prolonged conflict introduces toxins that inexorably corrode the values of popular government. "Not the least among these values is a code of military conduct that honors the principle of civilian control while keeping the officer corps free from the taint of politics." Over the past two weeks, there have been several articles, most notably in the Los Angeles Times, concerning the peer pressure in the military academies on cadets to become Republicans. Bacevich claims that the whole McChrystal incident should set off alarms--that the military professional ethic is eroding , evident in the disrespect for senior civilians.

Bacevich quotes General George C. Marshall that "A democracy cannot fight a Seven Years War." That was supposedly the genius of creating an all-volunteer force--a standing army, one that is only tenuously linked to American society. Once the Cold War ended, both Republicans and Democrats expressed a greater willingness to intervene abroad. From the Persian Gulf to the Balkans, from the Caribbean to the Horn of Africa, there was little to complain about. The costs appeared negligible--the miniscule casualties in the first Gulf War attest to this. So the role for everyone was simply to cheer and say "We respect your service."

So, with the abandonment of the Doctrine of Deterence for one of pre-emptive war, we entered what Don Rumseld called the "Long War", which is supposed to last 40 years. Remember when the reporter asked Dick Cheney about the polls showing dissastisfaction with the Iraq War. He said,"So what?" The Long War is exclusively the property of the "troops" and not the American people. As Bacevich writes," To be an American soldier today is to serve a people who find nothing amiss in the prospect of armed confict without end." As George W. Bush told the Amercan people after 9/11 "Go shopping". The war doesn't involve you.

The problem with this is that soldiers and their familes are left holding the bag. To have the National Guard on perpetual rotation to foreign war zones is obscene. At the same time, the current use of regular service men and women violates everything we know about the appropriate combat periods needed to forestall combat fatigue and more dramatic mental illnesses. In the Vietnam conflict, the British studied American troop deployment and found that our soldiers spent three times the amount in combat recommended by specialists. I can only imagined what it is today.

Bacevich warns that the circumstances of today's military in the United States breeds praetorianism, "warriors becoming enamored with their moral superiority and impatient with the failings of those they are charged to defend.' "Team America" as these officers called themselves, believe they are holding out against " a sea of stupidity and corruption". There is a pandemic "culture of contempt" for those not in uniform. The problem, according to Bacevich,isn't any threat to the constitutional order but the creation of generation after generation of officers like this.

What Bacevich sees as the real danger is, like in Vietnam, the military cracked from the bottom up. The damage took decades to repair and with a military that has demonstrated remarkable durability for the past decade shows signs of coming undone at the top. "The officer corps is losing its bearings."

Bacevich calls on the American people to reclaim ownership of the military. He believes the soldiers need a respite and citizens should insist Washington abandon its de facto policy of perpetual war. Or the country should actually become a country "at war" with all that implies for civic obligation, fiscal policies and domestic priorities.

But to quote from other writings of Bacevich, only the officers at colonel level or equivalent can sound the alarms up the ladder. It seems to me the contempt by McChrystal was not in his remarks about Obama, Biden and McCain but rather in his original plan for Afghanistan which required 150,000 additional troops and some $1 trillion more in spending. Only someone truly removed from political reality and the situation of the American society today could have had the hubris to propose such a plan.

The other issue has to do with the development of the endless lists of strategic threats to the United States. We've gone from WMDs, terrorism, narco-terrorism,cyber terrorism, global warming and now, according to Admiral Mullen, the national debt. At the same time, our total national security expenditure is twice the amount of what we paid at the height of the Cold War and equivalent to all the national security expenditure of the entire earth combined. So how much will real security cost? Are we to respond to every imaginable threat national security types can conjure up? Isn't the social and economic well-being of the American people a consideration of national security and stability? And if we face a real threat, will our armed forces be too hollowed out to respond?

I will return to this issue in another post. Parallel to Bacevich's concerns are those raised by former foreign service officers about the need to integrate economics, diplomacy and development into our considerations of national security. While the military carries the burden, our diplomatic service has been eviscerated in recent years through deliberate neglect, which triggered a wave of retirements, and the atrophy of our other tools to deal with these conflicts.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Let Obama Take Us To The Break--But When?

There is usually one segment on every Rachel Maddow Show which contributes to the public discourse. Last night after interviewing Barney Frank, (who looked like he had just gone 15 rounds in the ring,) about the Wall Street Reform Bill, she spoke about President Obama's achievements to date. It was more than useful;it was a valuable reminder how much the man has accomplished against staggering odds.

In recent weeks, we have been treated to the Darkness at Noonan view he is a snake-bitten president. Or the mainstream Democratic view, he was the Black man hired to clean up the white frat boy's messes and worthy of enormous sympathy and even pity. And, of course, there is the flood of vile hate I receive via e-mails and messages from the Right.

Dr. Maddow quoted Teagan Goddard at "CQ Politics", "Not since FDR has a president done so much to transform this country." In a year and a half, the Great Reformer's achievements have been staggering but lost in the Beltway noise chamber, which manufactures imaginary issues, clashes and even events.

It's worth repeating some of Dr. Maddow's observations. Like the geek she is, she mentioned what I think is one of Obama's great contributions to date--the unprecedented commitment of billions to research in science and research and even more billions to alternative energy sources. I still believe Obama's speech at MIT is one of the most important references to his vision of the future. The $100 billion in the stimulus package to our nation's crumbling infrastructure was the biggest investment since Ike and the first such action in over twenty years. The health care reform finished the job set out over 60 years ago to make health care a right in this country. A job that thwarted several Presidents. Wall Street Reform will be the most important regulatory piece of legislation since the Great Depression. And we don't know yet the fate of the Energy Bill.

He concluded a nuclear arms reduction deal with the Soviet Union and launched a new global proliferation initiative to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorist--a perennial nightmare for strategic thinkers for the last 20 years.

He signed Hate Crime Laws that has languished for years in Congress and expanded the Civil Rights act through the Lily Ledbetter Law to award women equal pay for equal work. I would also give him some credit for pushing the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

He created a bipartisan Deficit Commission despite the opposition of the Republicans, who now proclaim themselves deficit hawks. He also passed Pay-Go requirements for government funding again without a single Republican vote.

All these accomplishments were enacted without any support from the opposition party. The opposition party now will not even extend unemployment benefits to 1.2 million Americans whose benefits have run out and not extend the necessary financing to keep states solvent so as to allow the continued employment of teachers, firemen and police.

So as we look toward the mid-terms, I think it's important that we get another Obama "Vision" speech where he synthesizes the meaning of all these achievements for the future direction of the country. There are shards here and there of how they fit together but so far we have not had the comprehensive view in one set speech. It's time for what Hillary Clinton called his "Whoop-De-Do" speech. The reason it's needed is because even Democrats are losing their focus in message control, allowing Republicans to creep back from the brink. And they need to start getting a laser vision for this November. The stakes are that high.

President Obama needs this speech as well to maintain and harness his political capital, which gets weakened by unexpected crises like the BP disaster. He lucked out with the appalling response by the Republicans and their full body embrace of the oil companies. But he can not bet on their continued ineptitude.

There is another fundamental reason it's time for Obama to present his vision for the future. The American people are battered physically, emotionally and financially after the last several years. All his significant reforms have not been translated at the grass-roots level into support for his vision.

Many of these changes affect small things in one's everyday life but the President doesn't get credit for them. A key example of this is his reform of student college loans and streamlining the process. As a personal example, this means $10,000 I would not have had access to in the past for my son's education. I am sure this is happening to millions across the country but since they do not watch the minutia of Beltway politics they do not connect the change with the President.

But President Obama needs to get the American people to buy into his vision of the future. He needs to translate the science and research components of his program away from the "green language" into a more futuristic language that taps into the American sense of progress and great accomplishments. He has to de-wonk how he talks about these issues to convey how visionary they are. At the same time he needs to spell out in understandable terms how the foundation for a new economy is being laid and why we can not sustain and should not want to continue the present.

And to some of us, he has to spell out the basic components he wants to come from the deficit Commission since some of its members have alarmed a number of observers. He must emphasize that Social Security will be strengthened and its life extended under any deficit reduction proposals. And he may have to touch the real Third Rail in politics future cuts to the military/ terrorist complex. Also his explanation of deficit reduction should be aimed at defanging the austerity hawks, which are beginning to dominate the public discussion and giving Republicans a talking point, when they themselves racked up $11 trillion of the deficit under their watch. A fact he might want to explain.

This speech should be timed to have maximum effect prior to the mid-term elections but not be seen overtly as an election year speech. The venue needs to be selected so that there can not be a Republican rebuttal. It is too late to hold it for the State of the Union Address where a heckler will win the media coverage anyway. It should be an address aimed at the general public and not simply the Democratic Party.

When? I would like to see it as soon as possible but Americans tend to go to sleep in August. Either it should be sometime in July or immediately around Labor Day. There should be a concerted effort to maximize media coverage and to win over key journalists to write seriously about it.

It's time President Obama use his natural eloquence for himself. We'll even allow him to use a teleprompter. And, let's thank Rachel Maddow for reminding us of all that has been accomplished in this short presidency.

ARE YOU FIRED UP! READY TO GO! Let the Great Reformer takes us to the break.

Let Obama Take Us To The Break--But When?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sunset Cruise at the Last Manatee

This has been a glorious day for insanity as DC is in the midst of a heatwave.

Just some of the highlights:
A Republican congresswoman from North Carolina demanded Homeland Security investigate Hezbollah cells infiltrating Southwest U.S. from Mexico. Next we'll have car bombs and suicide bombers at Seizure City.

A Texas Republican congressman says on the House floor that Muslims have a thirty-year plot to have children born now in the United States so as to create terrorist cells. for the future.

Tennessee republicans with assists from the religious right are protesting a Islamic Cultural Center because it attacks the moral foundation of the state. A state known for moonshiners.

Arizona Senator Kyle walked back his statement that Obama told him he wouldn't do anything about the border until immigration reform is passed. He told the National Review his remarks were taken out of context--sort of.

Christian missionaries protested their treatment at the Dearborn, Michigan Islamic festival. Local Republicans claimed that the annual festival was a Hamas recruiting tool. This morning NPR had a program about how the CIA and the Pentagon were there recruiting Arabic and Farsi language speakers for both the military and intelligence agencies. Some one obviously didn't get the memo. NPR ran interviews with the CIA recruiter and the potential candidates.

The Pentagon told the Washington Post that Rolling Stone violated reporting rules in its interview with General McChrystal, while Rummy was with Gates having his portrait unveiled at the Pentagon.

Senator John McCain told Greta Van Cistern at Fox News that Afghanistan will be easier to pacify than Iraq. Even though we're starting ten years late and it's our government in place there and that the whole population were founding members of the NRA and are just a peace-loving crowd.

Joey Lieberman (I-Kinesset) said he might vote for an extension of unemployment benefits if it didn't affect the deficit.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said that all illegal immigrants smuggle drugs into the country.

Pew and Gallup polls reveal that Obama's approval rating has been remarkably consistent for the past six months, despite the fright poll of MSNBC/Wall Street Journal. No one thinks much of Republicans even though they are favored in the congressional elections (?). BP got an 8 approval rating for how it handled the Gulf disaster.

Another Gallup poll reveals that more Americans self-identify as conservatives than ever before--almost 42%. In other words, about the same percent of Americans that believe Jesus is coming back in 2050. The rest are Moderates about 35% and Liberals about 22%. (Note: this is about the same amount of conservatives when Republicans won back the House in 1994-so beware!)

Communitarian leader Amitai Etzoni says that America must invade Iran or else withdraw from the Middle East.

Bruce Barlett in Fiscal Times wrote about the one budget that did in fact curb the deficit. It was the one proposed by George H.W. Bush, the one where he raised taxes and provoked the stampede of conservatives to Ross Perot.

AIPAC is running around town holding small private meetings trying to sell the idea that the Free Gaza Flotilla ultimately wanted to smuggle arms into the Gaza. Maybe they should link up with the Arizona Government.

The Court in Texas tossed the Green Party off the ballot. Aides to Governor Perry admitted they had bankrolled the Green Party's petition to get on the ballot. I guess they really do fear White in November.

The Tea Party in Florida is suing each other or it or something. The Tea Party in Nevada is running ads against the Tea Party candidate for Senate, saying he never came to any rallies.

Christianist Congressman King from Iowa went birther on us on the House floor, using a photo of a little girl as the future citizen in debt saying that there is someone we know whose birth certificate we haven't seen.

The Republican candidate for Secretary of State in Connecticut has a slight problem--she was a lady wrestler. Now the Senate candidate is an owner of the World Wrestling Federation so I guess there's something in the waters up there.

Stephen Strassburg lost his first major league start the other night 1-0 but topped Herb Score's record for most strikeouts in his first four outings. I went to see the Nationals on Father's Day and they stunk the roof off the House. At least the 1962 Mets were funny and enjoyable. These guys just weren't there.

And speaking of not here, President Obama fled the capitol as insanity hit to travel to Canada. Since he has had to postpone his trip to Indonesia and Australia twice already, he's holding a mini-summit with the Asian countries on the side of the G-8 and G-20 meetings. After his Wall Street reform triumph, analysts believe he has to do a swift pivot to address global banking regulations.

Another Big F#*&King Deal

After a twenty-hour marathon session, where members fell asleep and the staff ran out of paper, the Dodd/Frank Act finally reached its final language. Last night's session, which broke around 5 a.m. saw slight changes to the so-called "Volcker Rule", which would have banned federally insured frims from trading on their own accounts, and a fierce war over Blanche Lincoln's strict derivatives regulation. After New York Democrats threatened to walk unless there was a compromise, there was some modification of the derivatives' language. But at the end of the day, the Wall Street Reform bill was tougher than President Obama wanted or needed.

Final votes are expected next week in both the House and the Senate and the bill should make it to the President's desk by the July 4th deadline. I have no idea if Republicans can filibuster it in the Senate. The problem they would have is that, unlike healthcare, this bill has widespread popular support and openly siding with the banks would not look good even to their base.

President Obama hailed the bill as giving him "90%" of what he wanted. If the bill passes, the 111th Congress will be able to boast one of the most prolific records in domestic reform. The stimulus, the healthcare bill, the reform of student loans, and now Wall Street reform make it one of the most productive congresses in recent memory.

I wrote before that 2,500 lobbyists were working to kill the regulations on derivative trading. NPR reported for the last negotiating sessions there were 5,000 lobbyists employed. I am amazed that the congresspeople managed to withstand the onslaught and produce anything meaningful.

If Elizabeth Warren supports the new Consumer Agency, even if it is in the FED, then I'm for it.

Whether in fact this is the most meaningful financial reform since the Great Depression, I have no idea but it is alot more useful than some of the blogs such as Huffington Post claim.

Bravo to Rep. Barney Frank and Senator Chris Dodd for a real legislative accomplishment.

And now while the country moves ahead on this issue, the Party of No managed to kill through filibuster extending unemployment insurance to about 1 million people, tax breaks for small businesses and funding to states to save the jobs of thousands of schoolteachers, firemen and police. Mitch McConnell claimed this altruistic action was because of the deficit. Republicans warmed the hearts of everyone by referring to the unemployed as hobos,lazy and drug abusers.

Are we really going to return nasty, mean-spirited people to power? I find it difficult to believe that this type of narrow-minded thinking really will be a winning formula. Maybe I just get a blast at seeing my government accomplish something.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Iced Coffee at the Last Manatee

Let it be recorded that on June 23, 2010, official Washington and the Beltway pundits actually agreed that President Obama did something well and did something right in removing General McChrystal. This was the first time in his administration this has actually happened and maybe the last. So it should be commemorated. Perhaps even made into a National Holiday.

Apparently, the firing really was caused by McChrystal's criticism of our European allies in Afghanistan and not the remarks about Obama and Biden.

If you are an environmentalist abandon all hope. I've heard from a number of people on the Gulf Coast, who lament the destruction of their way of life but are utterly committed to deepwater drilling. Unfortunately, they did not watch Rachel Maddow's little segment on why American oil isn't American. Along with her coverage of the Gulf disaster, she deserves credit for her side segments. First was the segment on how the oil companies amassed fortunes untold in the history of man but did not invest in any cleanup technologies after 1979. The second was her explanation that oil is traded on the global market.

As I've written, we could drill everywhere in the United States and offshore and only save 3 cents on a gallon of gas and fuel the American economy for a year or two max. The question is whether we are willing to pay the dire environmental cost. Apparently, the answer is yes. What BP did with one blowout, it took the oil companies almost forty years to do on the Niger Delta, the current model for the Gulf region.

The Last Mantee is no longer ironic. The oil spill has washed into the manatee breeding grounds in Alabama. Also, we are only two Sperm Whale deaths away from that species vanishing for good. I find this somewhat ironic since scientific studies released this week show that whales are closer to the human species than previously thought. But they tend not to kill each other.

Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the greatest security threat to the United States was the national debt. Where was he during the last administration? Or maybe he would like to look in the mirror and ponder the cost of our military/ terrorist complex? Without factoring in inflation, the military/terrorist budget is twice that of the Cold War period. Feel more secure?

The British are basically raising the pension level to 70 to try and eradicate their deficit. I am sure something like that will happen here. But how many blue-collar workers will be healthy enough to work until then? And who will hire them? We have to fight back on this nonsense about the social security system, the most successful social program we have and the most financial solvent of anything in our whole government system. It is clear that the Deficit Commission has several options planned for an overhaul of the social security system. But caveat emptor.

Senator Kyl of Arizona joined the long line of Republicans who lie about President Obama. He claimed that the President Obama told him privately he would do nothing about the southern border of the country until there was immigration reform. Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano positioned drones to monitor the border. I'm sure Kyl will be apologizing to the President on the floor of the Senate.

This is been a particularly vile week of receiving e-mails and other communications calling into question the President's citizenship,his competence and his desire to fulfil his agenda of "progressive socialism". He's going to grant a blank amnesty to all illegal immigrants (like Reagan?). He's going to create his own military loyal to him (Mike Savage). He outlawed the National Day of Prayer ( court ruled it unconstitutional and Obama is appealing), doesn't go to church (AMZ Baptist and Angelican Churches here in Washington) and by inviting atheists to a faith-based initiative function wanted to portray evangelicals as "knuckle-draggers) (not true?) Also he attacked the traditional family on Father's Day by acknowledging different types of families including those with two Dads. I received a public demand that President Obama and his cabinet resign immediately because of their deception, dishonesty and corruption. Jon Voight claimed Obama has caused a "civil war in Arizona" and is "purposely isolating Israel, our most loyal (?) ally". I received photos of captured arms caches in Arizona portraying the menace of illegal immigrants (although the settin looked suspiciously like Honduras). And for historical purposes, I also received an e-mail wanting Obama for Treason, which is almost identical to the ones produced against JFK.

At least Rush Limbaugh is becoming humanistic. This week he urged poor children to dumpster dive for food. And on the other side of the spectrum communitarian guru Amitai Etizoni called for the invasion of Iran.

As the temperature rises, the polling data worsens. The Gulf oil disaster has stopped all movement in polls showing the country was going in the right direction. Confidence in President Obama's ability to solve the economic crisis has taken a battering. But at least 40% of Americans still believe that George W. Bush is almost exclusively responsible for that situation. But the number blaming Obama has jumped to 27%, which is almost triple what it was about four months ago. The generic polls still fluctuate. A recent poll shows Republicans with a 2% spread on the Democrats. Pollsters are beginning to say that by the end of June attitudes become frozen about the November elections. I doubt this. I still say Labor Day.

President Obama is in for a fight at the G-20 summit since Merkel of Germany is battling him on the need to extend stimulus spending to make sure the global economy recovers. What bothers me with the European austerity measures is that government austerity does not translate into prosperity. I believe this will act like the protectionism in the Great Depression.

No one gives the administration any credit for China's decision to float their currency. This is a major diplomatic victory but like other Obama successes it will not concretely manifest itself in a way that people appreciate.

Polls are showing that Americans are now favoring the health reform bill, except for those over 65. On that issue, the problem has been the Republican filibuster to raise doctors' compensation for Medicare patients. Instead, they have been forced to take a 20% cut in pay, jeopardizing the availability of medical care for Medicare patients. Interestingly, it turns out that one of the persons who has benefited the most from Medicare payments is Rand Paul, whose whole eye practice depends on the elderly.

Remember Elena Kagan? Well, this week has seen the new conservative attacks on her. Even Mitch McConnell won't rule out the filibuster since he has regained his confidence by stopping the Jobs bill and aid to the states. After his defeat on healthcare, he told the media the GOP would not filibuster. According to Frank Gaffney, Elena Kagan, a single Jewish professional women, favors Sharia Law! I won't dignify this by explaining. Judge Bork says that she's pro-choice, which the last time I looked was constitutional, and she favors activist judges like Judge Barack in Israel! One interesting development has been the posting by the Sunshine Foundation of all her e-mails from the Clinton Administration. Easy access and interesting reading. I'm sure we will have more new revelations as the weeks move on. Oh yes, her family are leftwingers from New York City.

For the next Supreme Court choice, I now really want an American Indian so that the conservatives' heads explode. This choice could say, "My people have been trying to fight illegal immigration since 1492" and "we would like some say about the Constitution."

Then I had to hear about the Mosques (it grows with each telling) being built around Ground Zero. At this point, I hope they ring the 9-11 monument with mosques and declare the park a monument to the success of conservative security policies. I mean ,who can forget the immortal words of George Tenet, "I hope it's not the guys from the flight school". At least this whole flap got the head of one of the Teabaggers to resign and coordinate opposition to this plan. The man in question won his spurs as a member of Nixon's dirty tricks squad.

I have not been able to assimilate all the primary results yet. The sultry Sikh romped to vistory in South Carolina and will win the race for Governor. But now the religious right is asking questions about Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal--whether their conversions are real. On the Democratic side Elaine Marshall won over Carl Cunningham in Nortb Carolina and right now is tied with Republican Burr--that's one I believe the Democrats can win. In Texas, White is tied with secessionist Rick Perry.

In California, Democratic operative Chris Lahane had a nice putdown of Meg Whitman,"Jerry Brown has won more elections than times that Whitman has voted." Whitman has done a pivot on immigration, recording an ad in Spanish, which totally contradicts her primary postion to built a wall on the border and pass an immigration bill.

For the joys of homophobia, consult ,which has been reproducing the great hits from the Religious Right for the past two weeks. It's such a rich bounty I would spend days retelling.

Yes, Virgnia, there will be a Wall Street Reform bill come out of conference. Whole armies of lobbyists have been fighting to water it down but something significant will emerge. But by the time it does it will disappoint progressives and upset conservatives. Will it be a substantial imrpovement on the status quo--yes. Will it be a significant achievement of this administration? Yes, but he'll never get credit for it.

At this stage, I believe there are only two other major pieces of legislation that might be able to pass during the rest of Obama's first term--immigration reform; and/or an energy policy bill. And then that will exhaust the ability of Congress to do anything constructive.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Showdown at the White House

Summer certainly isn't President Obama's season. But let's give him props for the McChrystal episode. President Obama deftly handled the McChrystal flap and politically insulated himself from any (legitimate)criticism by choosing General Petraeus as the new Afghanistan war commander.

Politically, he choose the GOP's war hero, which should neutralize Republican congressional criticism. He also effectively eliminated another 2012 GOP candidate. He did this before with the appointment of Jon Huntsman, the governor of Utah, to the post of ambassador to China. If Petraeus succeeds, Obama gets the credit. If he doesn't, Petraeus doesn't acquire any political capital.

But the McChrystal situation harks back to the beginning of the administration when the Joint Chiefs of Staff tried to muscle Obama and he dressed them down, hoping this put the unrest in the military to bed. It didn't then and will not now. As today's Los Angeles Times article underlined, the America military has become politicized and at the military academies there is peer pressure to identify oneself as a Republican.

In the case of McChrystal, he had been a favorite of Dick Cheney and Sy Hersh makes the charge that McChrystal actually engaged in politically apoproved assassinations for the vice-president. Whether true or not, to have a military basically immune from congressional oversight and budget restraint encourages it to act independent of civilian control.

Recently, the military has been balking at Obama's timetable of drawing troops down by the summer of 2011. Unfortunately, this episode will raise this issue and not a debate over the whole Afghanistan adventure in general. There is something profoundly misguided with the current COIN strategy since it is based on the French experience in Algeria--which they lost--and our Vietnam experience--which we lost. When President Obama reviewed the Afghan policy , the Pentagon and McChrystal in particular advocated a $1 trillion program with an escalation of forces in the neighborhood of 100,000 plus and a lengthy commitment. While Obama righfully rejected this option, he never seemed to question the basic premises of the COIN doctrine in general. The Rolling Stone reporter who recorded McChrystal's comments said in an interview today that President Obama seemed not to truly understand what counter-insurgency meant to the military.

What has occured in Afghanistan is an amazing disproportionate allocation of resources. The military operation exceeds by many times the GDP of the entire country, while our USAID programs are miniscule to our military effort. This is symptomatic of our foreign policy in general, which has grown too top heavy with the military dimension and atrophied at the level of diplomacy and economic assistance. From an operational point of view, the military is the thousand pound gorilla in the room, pushing aside the other vital elements to policy. Just as an example, the PR effort of the military in Afghanistan totally eclipses our embassy efforts. So local political players know to play our military off our diplomats as witnessed by Karzai's embrace of General McChrystal. The net effect of this is to neutralize our other efforts to stabilize the political situation by other means.

The only positive thing appears to be President Obama's recalibration of what constitutes a satisfactory outcome in the country, which seems realistic and tangible. But this doesn't satisfy the military, who embrace words like "victory". I expect considerable tension on this issue for the next two years.

But for today, President Obama clearly showed he's the Commander-in-Chief, reinforcing civilian control over our miltary.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"That was no gaffe..That was a philosophy"

Kudos to Rahm Emmanuel for summing up Joe Barton's apology to BP. For a nicer response, check out Joe Biden's retort on the the White House website.

Correction from previous post. Since I was always tormented by the Republican Study Group, which was a House think tank for unemployable right-wingers, I wrongly concluded it was their talking points the GOP were using. But it was the Republican Study Commitee, which makes it worse because it consists of over 100 members of the House.

Also on the Escrow Fund. While BP did float the idea first to the Republican Congressional Leadership, it was being countered by a lobby effort by the Chamber of Commerce, who wanted the federal government to pay all the clean-up costs. Why? Well, because the chairman of Massey coal mines sits on the board and he fears a host of penalties for his dozens of unsafe mines. Also the escrow fund sets a precedent that oil companies are resisting.

The Escrow Fund does not include the cleanup costs BP has to pay. The Fund is only for workers and businesses who were hurt by the spill. BP is currently running around to banks to raise about $50 billion for the total bill.

Raising the liability cap has become a big issue in town. The issue really is moot. The liability cap for oil spills is not in effect if there are cases of negligence or recklessness by oil companies. Republican resistance makes sense because they fear oil companies may face greater costs down the line. But in the case of BP there would be no liability cap because the testimony so far indicates at least recklessness.

Come On Down. You have to admire Haley Barbour's willful denial of the crisis. As of yesterday, he said the beaches were great. I guess you wouldn't be bothered by sea turtles, dolphins or manatees because they are all dead. Today, Haley said the moratorium on deepsea drilling was worse than the oil spill.

Jimmy Buffett is going to give a free concert in Alabama to show the rest of the country that the Gulf is fine. The problem is that the oil now has invaded manatee areas in Alabama.

Meanwhile former Republican Charlie Crist has jumped out to a double-digit lead against teabagger and oil fiend Marco Rubio. Crist supported the ban on offshore driling. It's interesting that we haven't heard from Jeb Bush because as Governor he opposed his brother's policy on offshore oil development because of environmental concerns.

E.J. Dionne finally gave himself permission in today's Washington Post to write about the atavistic conservatism that has re-emerged in the Republican Party. He was encouraged by Chris Matthews' MSNBC show on the rise of the Hard Right in America. Dionne points to the long history of conservative's conspiracy theories about the federal government. I think he's wrong that Barton sided with BP over the government because of this bias. It's like Emmanuel said the Republican philosophy is for large corporations over the government. Or as we saw under George W. large corporations actually running the government.

An historical footnote for Baby-Boomers. JFK himself encouraged the book and the film of Seven Days in May because he thought a military coup on the United States was possible. The reason was that JFK fired General Walker and later Curtis LeMay for their efforts to recruit John Birch Society members into the military. You will recall General Walker was the subject of an assassination attempt in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald. He was later portrayed by the great Sterling Hayden in Winter Kills,where Jeff Bridges, the younger brother of the slain President, searches for his brother's assassin and wanders to Hayden's ranch where there are military maneuvers. JFK also may have remembered the businessmen's coup attempt against FDR in the 1930s. This was a plot, which included teabag funders Koch Industries, that involved WWI veterans who would throw FDR out of the White House.

FDR handled the plot with cool. He called the millionaires into the White House and read out the names of all those people involved, paused, and then said, "Gentlemen, the plan just won't work."

In short, the world of the Right today harks back to the weird conspiracy theories of the 1950 and early 1960s.

The Sunday New York Times ran an article on the impasse in Congress on the jobs bill. They noted that Senate Republicans plausibly used the deficit as an excuse for opposing. But then they examined what happened with a fairly innocuous House bill that called for lower taxes on small businesses. This is an Apple Pie bill, which generally sweeps through the House. But only four Republicans, those champions of capitalism, voted for it. One of them is Mike Castle, former Governor of Delaware and the presumed next Senator from that state. He lamented his party's failure to compromise on such measures and said this was harmful to the country. But Virginia's own Virginia Foxx, the woman who said ,"Obama was a great threat to America than Al Qaeda", claimed that Republicans will oppose all Democratic laws because "we have different views on what made America great". OK.

Lousiana's Governor Bobby Jindal has filed a suit in court against the moratorium on deepwater drilling. For legal beagles, he and others have filed for an injunction against the ban. Notice how Republicans did not do the same on the healthcare bill. If they had any basis then, they could have filed for an injunction. Little Bobby's great barrier island scheme or berms has run up against investigative reporters. Apparently, environmentalists in the state claim it would not be effective against the oil spill and others note that the projected $330 billion (?) cost (I can't believe that figure) would benefit the dredging industry, which are financial supporters of the Governor.

Howard Fineman said that Jindal was acting like General Patton running around the state. But President Obama slapped him down in his Friday address to the nation when he called on the Gulf's Governors to mobilize their National Guard immediately and stop waiting. Apparently, General Jindal has failed to do this despite President Obama's request in his Oval Office speech.

The conservative blogosphere has not let up on blasting Obama's extortion of the $20 billion escrow fund. I guess they didn't get the memo with all the Republican walking back that line. John Fund looked like he was about to have a moment of lucidity. John said that depending on the next President we could become a Third World country. I thought he might have been alluding to George W's record and the horrifying prospect of Sarah Palin. No, he was saying if the government required all companies to pay for their misdeeds, then we would be driving corporations away from America. He cited the possibility that Toyota would face such devastating penalties for the stuck gas pedal that it would have to go out of business. You see these are just the risks we must take if we are going to keep our economy going. The new philosophy of "No Fault Capitalism".

So we should just run CEOs for public office. This new GOP strategy is being tested with Carly Fiorina in California. Apparently, the CEOs of Oracle, Netflex,Dell and othe Silicon Valley moguls are openly not supporting Carly because of the horrendous job she did at Hewlett-Packard.

The Good news we can look forward if Republicans take back the House is Rep. Darrell Issa becoming Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committtee. Issa wants to double his staff to 80 to subpoena the Obama administration on everthing and the kitchen sink. "I won't use it to have corporate America live in fear that we're going to subpoena everything. I will use it to get the very information that today the White House is either shredding or not producing." Do we get the Bush Administration's e-mails?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Four Freedoms Speech--Happy Father's Day

In the future days,which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential freedoms.
The first is the freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want--which,translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants--everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
To that new order we oppose the greater conception--the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.
Since the beginning of our American history,we have been engaged in change--in a perpetual peaceful revolution--a revolution which goes on steadily,quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions--without concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries,working together in a friendly, civilized society.
This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.
To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

And So It Goes.

Kurt Vonnegut would not have been surprised but I am amazed. After the debacle of Joe Barton apologizing to BP for Obama's "shakedown" to create a $20 billion escrow account, the entire conservative blogosphere came to Barton's defense. Even after Tan Man Boehner threatened Barton with the loss of his committee seat, we see Newt Gingrich and other conservatives appear on Fox News and call Barton courageous. This is like the conservative support of the South Carolina congressmen who yelled "You Lie" at the State of the Union address. The Wall Street Journal warned that this fund set a precedent and wanted the government to pursue BP through legal means. And the capo di tutti, Rush Limbaugh called this "organized crime". Forget for a moment, that BP actually consulted the Republican leadership about this idea before they brought it up with Obama and the leadership approved. It's not like there is a wall between the corporate world and the Republican party.

The best defense of BP was Freedomworks' own Dick Armey, who said that the White House acted unconstitutionally in "forcing BP" to create the escrow account. This is rich coming from someone whose President enthusiasically embraced the doctrine of the unitary executive as the rationale for almost total power. Just days earlier Armey, head teabagger, told teabagger candidates to hide their affiliation because people think there are kooks. There is a rich irony here. Teabbaggers imitate American colonists who protested the East India Tea Company, while coming to the defense of British Petroleum. It's no mistake because Freedomworks enjoys the financial support of BP and Koch Industries, America's largest private oil company. Part of their work is to lobby for the lifting of all bans on offshore drilling.

(P.S. There were between 85-95 corporate agreements similar to the Escrow Fund during George W's administration. Remember Chevron agreeing to create a fund when they were caught violating the Iraq embargo? And the list goes on.)

The Baked Alaskan gave a full-throated defense of corporations claiming that support for corporations was the "American way". The absolute brazen support of corporations at this time is amazing. David Broder woke up from his coma long enough to suggest that while President Obama is mired in the Gulf crisis, he should look over his shoulder at the American corporations sitting on over $1 trillion that could be invested in the economy right now. What Broder didn't report is that Republican Senate leadership told the corporations to hold back until after the elections to move on this.

The Corporate Crime Reporter noted yesterday that EPA investigators have been trying to get BP prosecuted since 2005 because of safety violations, oil spills in Alaska and other problems but were stopped because BP provides 85% of the fuel for our military in Iraq.

So Washington pundits keep criticising Obama's Oval Office speech, saying the magic has worn off--probably for them. Darkness at Noonan called Obama a snake-bitten President.

I have to check myself with the flood of criticism from the right and the left and see whether any of this is really taking hold in the public. Remember the healthcare debate and all Americans opposed it except when the specific provisions of the bill were polled, which showed overwhelming support for them? The same is appearing now with Obama's proposals on the Gulf crisis.

Support for creating a fund of billions of dollars to compensate workers and businesses that have been affected. 82% Approve.
Support for increasing the amount of federal regulation of the oil industry. 68% approve
Support for changing the law so there is no limit to the amount of money BP can pay: 63% approve
Support for suspending all new drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and other offshore sites for six months. 58% approve
Support for filing criminal charges against BP. 53% approve

(CNN poll)
In addition over 70% support developing alternative sources of energy and nearly the same percent believe this will create more jobs.

If you notice,my posts this year have already surpassed the entire volume of last year. the reason is that I want to keep up the same rate as GOP Senate filibusters, which are now looking to top all of last year.

President Obama's Saturday morning address to the nation focused on Republican efforts--so far successful--in filibustering a new Jobs bill, that includes vital payments to state governments to save the jobs of teachers and law enforcement officers, extends unemployment benefits and also corrects the Medicare payments to doctors. Last year the Republican tactics were aimed at stalling the healthcare bill. This year it's flat out to kill aid to states and the unemployed. President Obama merely is asking for a vote on the bill. So far this has 57 votes. Nelson and Joe Lieberman (I-Knesset) are opposed.

I will return to the great deficit debate in a later post because this is where things will really get nasty. But for now I am absolutely astonished that Republicans can be so raw in acting against the public good. You really would have to look at the war against FDR in his first term to find such a precedent. I wish the opposition to Obama was all racially motivated. At least George Wallace was a populist racist. This is a total war by the wealthy and corporations to render us an undeveloped country. The final looting of the country.

I leave you with the true words that someone who voted four times for FDR and was "proud of it" said to me. President Ronald Reagan said to me," Remember large corporations are generally not very patriotic." You might recall this was when Pepsi and Archer-Midlands were actively trying to sabotage his policy toward the Soviet Union. The sentiment still stands.

I think I'll take the day off and read Michael Lux The Progressive Revolution: How The Best in America Came To Be (Wiley, 2009). Lux spends a great deal of his book on the progressive responses to corporate control of America.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Tin Ear in D.C.

First, the Los Angeles Lakers are the 2010 NBA champions, winning their 16th title. But, boy, they won ugly. Or to be charitable, they spotted the Celtics 3 1/2 quarters before showing up. There are reasons for cliches--it did come down to who wanted to win it the most.

Which brings us to our battered President. For weeks, there was a drumroll of criticism that the President had not called or met with BP CEO Tony Hayward. Then he meets with him and the criticism was that it only lasted 20 minutes. The net of the meeting was an escrow fund of $20 billion for the Gulf and another $144 million to compensate oil workers during the period of the moratorium. Clearly, this was the only piece of good news from the whole BP Gulf disaster.

Republicans at the urging of Karl Rove have been planting this idea since the beginning of the Obama administration that the President would be like Jimmy Carter or we'll make him into one. The Gulf disaster for Republican strategists would not be Obama's Katrina, since that reflected on George W, but rather the equivalent of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. The media would start the old Ted Koppel Day 300 and counting timeclock and Obama would be mired in the mess for the rest of his term.

Throughout the last 18 months, I have had doubts about whether the general public understood the commitment of the Republicans to destroy the Obama presidency. Most of the dirty work was done through filibusters and procedural maneuverings few people, except insiders, know or understand. Even progressives howl about why the Democrats with massive majorities can not pass the needed legislation. The net effect is to create the image of ineffective government and an inept administration. Therefore you should long for an authoritarian white father, who wouldn't believe in government but would wave the flag and invoke patriotism.

No Republican I have talked to or any of their public voices have admitted the country was or is in a Depression. The stimulus package was an unnecessary boondoggle of government spending and a vast extension of government's role in the economy. Financial reform is not the restoration of pre-1992 regulations but a government takeover of the economy and stifling of the private sector. Therefore, the mantra became "jobs" and the "deficit". Let's conveniently forget that by the end of this year, the Obama Administration will have created more jobs than the entire George W. Bush Administration.

If you didn't follow the extent of corporate funding of the congressional Republicans and the intent of their actions, you might think their case was plausible.

The President was said to lack emotion, backbone,courage and was too professorial and, according to former Reagan speechwriter Darkness at Noonan, out of touch with the American people.

There are gaffes, there a misstatements but then there are moments when the whole game is laid bare for all to see. Yesterday was one of them. D.C. lawyers had finally wakened up to the fact that they could litigate all their lives and never achieve the $20 billion escrow account for the victims of the Gulf disaster. Seasoned lawyers called it miraculous and noted that it was done without the necessary lawsuits. It was pointed out that the victims of the Valdez had to wait almost a generation of fighting the oil companies to get compensation and even that was severely cut down by the Supreme Court. In this case, the escrow account will be administered by the "special master" who handled all the claims for 9/11 victims, someone who was praised by both parties for his integrity and diligence.

If you are on the other side of the aisle, you might want to remain quiet or shift the subject. But the Heritage Foundation rolled out a position paper criticising the deal as an infringement on the rights of BP shareholders. The Republican Study Group, composed of 100 House members, wrote that the escrow account was a "shakedown" and a "slush fund". Haley Barbour, Governor of an effected state, worried about BP financial health. Michelle Bachman said that the account was Obama's ATM.

This is the type of rhetoric we have been used to for the duration of the administration. But what changed the situation was the nationally broadcast apology to BP's CEO Tony Hayward by Rep. Joe Barton of Texas for his treatment at the White House. Barton was simply repeating the Republican talking points. He was not talking as a single person. He went on to say that BP had been shaken down with Attorney General Eric Holder in the room. The key here is that the Justice Department is actively investigating bringing criminal charges against BP. The implication was that President Obama had intimidated a private corporation into ponying up the money.

The response both in the House and from the television audience was immediate. People were outraged not that Barton attacked President Obama but that he so clearly, as did other Republicans on the Committee, side with a foreign corporations over the people of the United States. John Boehner had to bring Barton into his office and threaten him with taking away his seat on the committee. Then out of Boehner's office came a press release ,ostensibly from Barton, retracting his apology to BP and saying his use of the word" shakedown" was miscontrued.

Then Republican mayhem ensued. Other congressmen did not get the memo and kept reiterating the same talking points; while congressmen from the Gulf States demanded Barton lose his seat. It also didn't help that BP's CEO Tony Hayward came across as lying through his teeth and simply did not generate any sympathetic feelings.

But the damage was done. The Republicans had been exposed as simply shills for the big corporations and nothing else. The plight of the citizens on the Gulf Coast clearly didn't matter. They would walk over their corpses for political gain. And what was startling to everyone was that it was so obvious and clear.

Within two hours, the Democratic fund-raising machine was up and running, exploiting the moment.

There was an interesting poll this morning that showed that 60% of Americans believe that President Obama cared for people like themselves.

This was brought home to me by a letter that was sent to Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Dish, which spoke about this woman's father who was a "marsh rat", who wanted to retire to a small cabin in the marshes and fish all day. This father was a real Arcadian, originally spoke French as his first language. Not an Obama supporter, he listened to the Oval Office speech. The woman wrote that when Obama pivoted on the "blessing of the fleet"section of his speech, her father cried and the President had his support from then on it.

Maybe like the Lakers, President Obama will have to win ugly.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Afternoon Coffee at the Last Manatee

Drudge reports that Obama only met with BP executives for 20 minutes today. Pretty productive meeting since he got them to fork over $20 billion for an escrow fund for the region's victims. With additonal fines of $4,300 per barrel, this is looking better than the original Louisiana Purchase.

Newt told his Fox audience that in this case it was alright for Obama to use religious language during his address to the nation.

Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi, one of the states affected by the spill worried that the escrow account would affect BP's profits.

Sarah Palin said the Dutch could clean up the spill. She was referring to their skimmer technology. A little late in the day, Dutch's skimmer machines have been in the Gulf for the last few days.

The House Republicans entered an amendment yesterday to strip the health reform bill of the individuals mandates. It was defeated. Look for this throughout the next few years.

The Senate Republicans managed to block the extension of unemployment and Cobra as well as the emergency $50 billion funds for the bailout of states.

Meg Whitman put another $20 million of her personal wealth into her campaign coffers. This means she has put in $90 million of her own dough. Apparently, Meg also has anger issues, having fought an employee in 2007. The poor woman was trying to prepare her for an interview. Should be interesting if she wins the California state house.

The Christian Right is back in all its lunacy, saying that the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell would mean that God would make us lose wars. In case anyone has been watching, the United States hasn't won a clearcut battlefield victory in a long time. There has been so many statements and pronouncements by the Christian Right, you're better off checking on a daily basis.

I think I've finally figured out this fascination of the Hard Right for the American revolution. It's the last "good war" in their minds that America fought. You can't embrace Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War because he was for big government, the wrong side won and the slaves were freed. You can't embrace WWII because FDR was the President and, in some minds on the right, the wrong side won again. And Vietnam doesn't do it because we lost and that was the period of the civil rights movement. And we know George W and Dick Cheney have been airbrushed out of the small government conservatives' history. The Spanish-American war is a no-no because it involves Hispanics and we want them deported.

Bill McCollum, who is running for the Republican nomination in Florida, is being successfully challenged by a hospital mongol, who has been convicted of felonies and forced to pay millions of dollars in fines. I guess the appeal is that this person was a CEO.

The final arguments for the Prop 8 trial are wrapping up today. The anti-gay lawyers are moving on another front to get the 18,000 legal gay marriages reversed. In my mind, the legal arguments have been all on the pro-gay side with the anti-gays having to invoke sociological studies done in the 1950s. But I am skeptical that the final arguments can move the current Supreme Court. Conservative lawyer Ted Olson disagrees but I believe he's naive about where the current court stands.

Jim Inhofe is doubling down on his anti-DADT repeal position. He went on the floor of the Senate yesterday saying that our armed forces simply won't fight with open gays in the military. Sort of like how it happened in Sparta and Rome.

All the polls this week except the AP poll show Republicans set to make big gains in the Congressional races. The volatility of these polls showing rapid changes in the generic congressional races and the vast ups and downs of Democrartic enthusiasm make me highly skeptical that we know anything about the state of the electorate. With jobs, the deficit and terrorism ranking as the top issues. I personally can't see how Republicans can capitalize on the jobs and deficit issue, although they talk a good game on terrorism.

Republicans have not created a job since 1990 and they have never acted as deficit hawks since Eisenhower. I can't see where they gain any credibility here, especially among independents. Unless something dramatic happens, terrorism doesn't trump the economy. As we've seen, Republicans are now embracing CEOs as their star candidates. But look at Whitman and Fiorina in California. Both of them gained their reputation by either outsourcing jobs or eliminating massive numbers of jobs nationwide but also in the very state they seek to represent.

On Taxes, Republicans claim they own the franchise in tax reduction but they opposed during the stimulus debate the largest tax cut for the middle class in history. Now they are framing the tax debate as if the financial concerns of the very wealthy are those of the rest of us. They may well pull that off with their spin machine. Most Americans don't believe Obama cut their taxes.

The fate of the free world hinges on Jack Nicholson just as it did in Mars Attacks. If Jack cheers on the Lakers well in Game 7, we will be saved. While not my favorite Laker team--Kareem and Magic--the Lakers must crush the Celtics if there is any justice in the world. As President Obama said, "the arc of history bends toward justice."

We salute Ken Griffey, who retired this past month. Finishing his career with 630 hrs, Griffey could have surpassed all homer records--natural or steroid infuenced--if his career in Cincinnati hadn't been plagued with injuries.

Yankee statisticians claim that Derek Jeter surpassed the 3,000 hit mark this week--if you include his playoff and world series hits. Hey, that's cheating. Let him do it straight. It should take two more months.

Meanwhile Nick Johnson made it another year in which he made the Disabled List. That makes every year that I have been following his career.

Shame on Brazil for only beating North Korea 2-1 in the World Cup. The North Korean team was made up of all males in the country who are given daily meals. Double shame on Spain for losing to Switzerland.

Washington is abuzz with the Rookie pitcher Stephen Strassburg, who struck out 14 in his first start and 7 of his last 10 and at one point 7 in a row. So far, he's won his first two games in the big leagues and won every start at all levels of the minor leagues. Unfortunately, the Nationals still blow.

The German austerity package if passed will trigger another Great Depression. So far the euro is barely hanging on with defaults in Greece and upcoming defaults in Spain and Portugal. As European commentators have mentioned, austerity does not necessarily lead to prosperity. So far we have been insulated from this stage of the European crisis but we can't be for long. With deficit hawks in the ascendency in the United States and Britain, these austerity programs may be this century's equivalent of protectionism in the 1930s.

Obama at the Big Murky

President Obama finally gave a speech that was panned by virtually every beltway pundit. His 17 minute speech from the Oval Office on the BP oil disaster was seen as not Big enough and didn't call for an Apollo-type response to our energy needs. Chris Matthews, who has turned against Obama, felt that he should have called for schoolchildren to "volunteer" their summers to clean up the mess. Former Bush speechwriter Gerson lamented the use of such an august setting for such a mundane series of policy proposals. Remember his boss said that the purpose of America was to "eliminate evil" on this planet. That's thinking big. The Left seems to have abandoned Obama while the Right believes that, ready for this, government regulations were the fault of the BP disaster. We even had Sarah Palin's immediate tweet that Obama was playing into the hands of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

For these situations, I recommend watching an Obama speech on C-Span, without the self-aggrandizing talking heads. The call-in response to the speech from average Americans--pro and anti-Obama--was uniformally enthusiastic and supportive of the President. By this morning NPR was flooded with e-mails from around the country, which criticized all the naysayers by challenging them to come up with constructive answers to the spill. The general theme from the NPR listeners was that Obama didn't cause the spill, BP did and what is it precisely you think he should do that he's not doing.

While I love Obama at his rhetorical best, last night's speech was succinct, plain-spoken and fact-based ( a rarity in Washington these days). He may have gone too religious for me but he was trying to communicate to the average American without the filters of the press. It seemed to me that the speech worked in ways that those I love have not. While I found his suggestions about an energy bill too vague and not time specific, he would have lost his intended audience if he went into the type of detail he did in his MIT speech. I just fear that his generalized desire for an energy bill will end up with the nonsense we saw on the health reform debate. To invite conservative reaction, I found the speech Reaganesque and probably as effective.

Conservative invocations of the sanctity of the oval office strike me as offensive. The Right worships ritual and patriotic symbols. Remember the flap over Obama's lack of a flag pin or his not saluting the flag. Obama puts his feet up on the desk in the Oval Office. He bows to foreign leaders. Not like say Junior who French-kissed the Saudi King. Conservatives are the only patriots, even though for the last year and a half they have supported sedition. As Lee Atwater used to say,"Put out alot of flags, say the pledge of allegiance, sing the national anthem, and you can say anything you want." That's a formula that still works.

I'm beginning to worry about the American Left. We're hearing everything from nationalize the oil companies to the federal government must seize control of the entire Gulf State. Bill Maher has decided Obama is not his guy and says that he should just tell people who work in the industry--Screw You. Since we only have one mature adult in Washington, it seems to me the Left shouldn 't abandon ship when anarcho-fascists wait in the wings.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Glenn Beck--Next Civil Rights Hero?

Glenn Beck has published a novel called The Overton Window, taking its name from a theory of Joseph Overton, a free-market theorist who claimed that there was a window of acceptable political ideas, which could be expanded to include the most outrageous. The plot for this potboiler is that a giant PR firm, which creates the images for political movements, is asked to advance the "progressive agenda". To do this, a nuclear weapon is supposed to be detonated in the Majority Leader's state and blamed on the right. Then conservatives will be rounded up and placed in FEMA camps. And somehow characters are invented to stop this plot and post-coital conversation consists of discussions about the flat tax.

The title of the post refers to Beck's claim that his August 28th rally here at the Lincoln Memorial will "reclaim the civil rights movement" and "be remembered as the moment America turned the corner." For an important take on Beck's meglomania , you should read Media Matters' June 9 post "Glenn Beck: Self-proclaimed world-historical figure". The rest of this post is paraphrasing the highlights of this insanity.

Beck believes his rally will be an "iconic event". "We are on the side of individual freedom and liberties, and damn it we will reclaim the civil rights moment. We will take that moment because we were the people that did it in the first place." I really need a translator for that quote. He claims the rally will"make you weep all night". Beck's legendary weeping has an honorable tradition in Mormon testamentary speaking. Mature men are expected to weep uncontrollably as a sign of their sincerity. And the rest of us thought he was just fruit loops or had alot of glycerine on hand.

Our political system will be fixed if we stand between Washington and Lincoln. And just as Matrin Luther King faced German shepards, Glenn Beck himself has had to face SEIU and leftist thugs." He compared his plight to being "rounded up" by Che Guevara in Cuba. He calls his followers the "real reformers" and warns them that "a few of us will get a billyclub to the head."To the day he dies or the checks cease, Beck vows to hunt down progressives "like Israeli Nazi hunters". He also likens himself to Tom Paine, Ben Franklin and Paul Revere. Luckily God has given him a plan, which he will unveil in August. Like the Founders , Beck is an instrument of God and claims the Vatican informed him that what he is doing is "wildly important" because we
are "entering a period of great darkness". He says that all Americans should fall on their knees and "thank God every day for the people at Fox" for airing his show.

Beck says that his life is at stake because of the vast conspiracy against him. Members of this conspiracy include: President Obama, the IRS, the SEIU, the AFL-CIO, Media Matters, Sojourners president Jim Wallis, Van Jones, Congressman Anthony Weiner, George Soros and Robert Craemer. He claims that his detractors are "relentless" (with cause) and that he "can't go anywhere without major security". He claims that if you associate with him, Congress will come after you. He said he told everyone about the "horror" over three years ago. (Actually, it's not true. he was a run-of-the-mill libertarian then and had not tasted the apocalyptic fruit.) he asserts he is willing to think the unthinkable and now can see life as it really is. The coming threat is that we will all be part of a global community as envisioned by progressives beginning with Woodrow Wilson.

The show biz aspect of this is interesting. Mike Huckabee had a show of madcap inventors who claimed to have made special things to clean up the Gulf oil spill. The whole tone of that show was that these inventors were like faith healers, something former Baptist preacher Huckabee is familiar with. With Beck, alot of the presentation is derived from Mormon revival meetings and how testaments are given by the males in the family. With pre-Vatican Council Catholics, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, Fox now introduces us to the rest of the fundamentalist spectrum with a political message. Dominionist Sarah Palin completes the cast.

Just make sure you're not in Washington during the dates for his appearance.

I am waiting for the day Beck appears like the great Jimmy Swaggert and cries out, "I have sinned."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Things I Don't Care about

In previous years, I only cared about foreign policy issues because I felt that the economy would creep along and that there existed a consensus that our social net was worth preserving, even if it meant tinkering around to make it solvent. With the attack of the last Administration on our basic civil liberties and the collapse of our financial system in 2008, I have tended more inward. I find it strange to have the only sane discussions on democracy, human rights and the rule of law in seminars conducted in African states who don't practice these concepts. But the political debate in the United States has become too surreal and unsettling. Perhaps, it is simply the economic tensions of the times--a generation seeing boom years disappear over night and structural unemployment become the norm--that accounts for the eruption of the extremes. Perhaps, it is the latent racism that has plagued our society from its foundation. Whatever the cause, the increased polarization of our society threatens the union. Concepts in our democracy that have been accepted and assumed by all now are debated as if they were foisted on a large unsuspecting sector of our society.

Since there are so many issues coming to the fore, it's best to be selective about what one cares about. The first step in this process is to list what issues one doesn't care about.

I don't care about:
1. The estate tax. I won't have anything to brag about and it will escape taxes anyway. Beside, I will be dead.
2. I don't care about increasing taxes for the upper income brackets. Although I have few chances of reaching those brackets, if I did I would be grateful enough of my good fortune to willingly pay taxes. I also don't believe Americans will cease overnight to want to become rich. I wish they would refrain from this dream.
3. I don't care about capital gains taxes since people with 501Ks don't pay that anyway and I never hold stocks as long as a year anyway.
4. I don't even care about real estate taxes. This year was the first year where my real estate taxes exceeded what I paid in New Jersey on a home worth one-fifth of mine in Virginia.
5. I don't care if I am compelled to buy health insurance. I'm compelled to buy car, home and do pay life insurance. So what's the big deal?
6. I don't care about corporate taxes. Only 26% of American corporations pay taxes anyway and these solid citizens didn't create any jobs in ten years and are sitting on trillions of dollars to bluff our President.
7. I don't care if they raise the limit on social security taxes even if I pay more if it keeps the system solvent.
8. I don't care if the British are annoyed by attacks on BP if they pay their freight. I'm not responsible for British pensioners.
9. I don't care about the deficit. I will after we recover economically. I also believe the deficit can be managed without the dire cuts to Social Security and Medicare that people advocate.
10. I don't care if the President of the United States were born in Kenya. Just prove his mother wasn't an American.

Night Thoughts from the Last Manatee

The totalitarian right discovered the constitution when Barack Obama was elected. That's not a bad thing. However, I have been barraged by e-mails about one constitutional violation after another by our President. And we have seen what a curious constitution is being invoked. A new Arizona law will ban children of illegal immigrants born in this country from being citizens. This happens to violate Amendment 14. The Hard Right claims they are constitutionalists and want to revoke Article 17 of the constitution, which quaintly allows citizens to elect their Senators. The teabaggers embrace the very exotic tenther movement, which elevates states' rights to a paramount place in our Constitution. Glenn Beck daily proclaims that the Left--whoever that is--has hoodwinked all of us into believing that the Founders really did believe in the separation of Church and State. The Republican nominee for the Senate in Nevada claims we should no longer negotiate treaties, although that is explicit in the preamble of our Constitution. And then we have the rather bizarre group of Supreme Court Justices who believe in something called originalism, which enabled them to rule that both domestic and foreign companies have rights as individuals and can donate unlimited funds to political campaigns.

I have a basic viewpoint on all this. I believe these people seriously have given up on the idea of America. I think their efforts to deconstruct the Constitution indicate they have grown cynical about the whole idea of self-government itself. That is why I said that this theme, which appears daily in right-wing talk radio, is ominous. Newt Gingrich in his latest book attacking President Obama writes that we are at an existential moment, the equivalent of the time of our civil war when we questioned who we are as Americans. I believe this is rubbish but I do believe conservatives sincerely have been thrown for a loop and don't know why they participate in our democracy. It is clear that today's Republicans refuse to participate or even compromise unless they have total power.

The natural response to the right's recent embrace of the Constitution is to ask where they were when the Fourth Amendment disappeared for three years during George W.Bush and Dick Cheney and his minions advocated a unitary theory of the executive, which conservative constitutional scholar Bruce Fein argued was a form of despotism. And then we could discuss the issues of torture and American traditions.

Since this revisionism about our history and our constitution is gaining momentum and entering the mainstream of political debate, it's best to be prepared and armed. For this I recommend Seth Lipsky's The Citizen's Constitution: An Annotated Guide (Basic Books, 2009). This book provides the historical background to the various articles and amendments of the Constitution and contemporary discussions about recent cases and arguments. For the upcoming Supreme Court case on health care reform, we'll need to become specialists in the commerce clause.

A blogger at the Daily Kos posted an entry "Gingrich, Obama and American Exceptionalism". It is well-worth a read. The blogger in my mind rightfully criticizes Gingrich's definition of American Exceptionalism as exclusively a property of the Hard Right, while Newt neglects to furnish the more apt definition that we are a people who all originated somewhere else and are united in a commitment to democracy, pluralism and tolerance with a commitment to the common good. In this short essay he outlines Barack Obama's notions of American Exceptionalism based on these concepts. The one problem I have is that he tries to secure his definition as the exclusive property of progressives, not just all of us. He made the mistake that Newt did.

John Keane is back. This British, former Labor thinker popularized the notion of the civil society as it formed the basis of the democratic revolutions in Central Europe. I credit him with influencing American policymakers to incorporate the civil society in all our programs to promote democracy overseas. Intimately involved in both Poland and Czechoslovakia, Keane later wrote the definitive biography of Vaclav Havel. By that time, he had soared on Havel because he practiced normal democratic politics instead of an overarching brand of the civil society. He has a lengthy tome The Life and Death of Democracy, which makes an urgent defense and plea for democracy as it looks a bit tattered these days.

Reinhold Niebuhr is back in terms of a realism in foreign policy. But, not so much to the chagrin of William Pfaff of the International Herald Tribune. Pfaff laments the triumphalism of American foreign policy in general and warns that our global interventionism will ultimately fail. Despite Obama's embrace of multilateralism, Pfaff believes President Obama has embraced some of the worst tendencies of the past and his policies will fail. His latest book on this subject is The Irony of Manifest Destiny: the Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy (Walker, 2010). He traces the idea of Manifest Destiny and America's interpretation of its exceptionalism through our history and seems to elide with Gary Wills' National Security State, a critique of American policy after Truman.

I can't think of worst news than Afghanistan having over $1 trillion in mineral deposits such as Lithium. Think of Karzai as the Ibn Saud of Lithium, the master of cellphones. I have heard the pundits here already discuss the wonderful opportunity this provides the country. But, having lived through this with many new oil states and the mineral riches of the Congo, I can say, yes I know you can create laws that willl create transparency in awarding the mining contracts and ,yes. you can create a transparent way the nation could use the revenues for development. But it will never happen. The Mines and Minerals Ministry in Afghanistan is considered even more corrupt than the rest of the country and a few families will monopolize the industry. Whole populations will be displaced; and local warfare will be the rule like in mineral-rich Congo. And, unfortunately, the fact of minerals will enable those who want us to stay indefinitely in Washington to have greater infuence in the debate. And, the bottom line is that the Chinese will get the minerals anyway like they have the copper in Afghanistan and the oil in Iraq.

Daniel Byman and Christine Fair in the July/August The Atlantic have an excellent article on the ineptitude of Islamic terrorisms and the Taliban entitled "The Case for Calling Them Nitwits". Reviewing recent failed bomb plots, the authors also deal with the whole issue that these guys are not so religious. The laptops seized by U.S. authorities from the would-be jihadists are filled with porn. For a while, Pentagon analysts believed they encrypted messages in the porn but after extensive exams decided that these guys were just porn addicts. Apparently, we have tertabytes of this stuff from the laptops. Our Predator drones have captured exciting images of two Taliban engaged in intimate relations with a donkey and a fighter gratifying himself with a cow. The authors believe we must root out Al Qaeda's havens in Pakistan and then fighting terrorism becomes easy once we realize the rest of them are inept. Apparently, Al Qaeda is so cunning either. The CIA did an elaborate internet sting on Al Qaeda using Facebook and the organization actually posted their operational manuals and plans and personnel. It's a good thing Bin Laden just released another message to the United States. I was getting woried for a moment. His team isn't looking good.