Friday, March 28, 2008

Top Ten Things Joe Lieberman Whispers To John McCain
10) John...we invaded Iraq, not Poughkeepsie.

It's the Wailing Wall, not the Whaling Wall.

8) Stop hogging the blankets, you brute.

7) Bomb-Bomb Iran is based on a Beach Boys song, not Nancy Sinatra.

6) That's a camel you're talking to.

5) Not meaning to interrupt your press conference, come you never hug me?

4) One of your sock suspenders just snapped and brought down an unmanned drone.

You're scratching your balls in front of the press corps again.

2) When you're president, can I come over and play with the red phone?

1) Do you always grind pepper on your JELL-O?

(shamelessly lifted from Cat in the Bag, who found it at DKos)

The Bosnian Panopticon

Clinton's unforced, repeated errors in lionizing her 1996 trip to Bosnia were milestones, or better said, millstones in her Presidential campaign. It's no coincidence that old-line Democratic machine politicians (Richardson, Pelosi, Leahy) followed them by openly defecting and calling for her to end her run. Today's surprise endorsement by Pennsylvania senator Bob Casey, where Clinton still holds a 12-point lead in the polls, is one indicator of how damaging the fallout must be. While switching their allegiances, Richardson and Casey bore the relieved, euphoric looks of men who just reached the legal drinking age.

Hillary's fabrications were bizarre, banal political mistakes: so basic as to strain credulity. She was caught with video footage, yet continued to defend an unwinnable pretext. Now, let's imagine we are in front of cameras running for high office...would we repeat our whoppers 5 and 6 times verbatim, then stick by them as if there's no such thing as archival footage? 1996 is hardly too long-long ago and far-far away for insulation, and she should have expected people to check up on claims which were prima facie poetic. To knowingly make them at such great risk for a teensy upside, coming at a time when her campaign's position was improved, seems the political equivalent of insanity.

Or perhaps delusion. Maybe she really believed she was brought into a free-fire zone. Still, no military hierarchy on earth would ever put their President's wife in harm's way, simply to spare professional reputation. No reputations are more jealously guarded, and she may not have realized how profoundly her comments insulted the Tuzla base commander who hosted her and her daughter; one can easily imagine reactions of profanity and spittle-laced asperity, followed by marshaling the Army's considerable PR avoirdupois to set the record straight.

That's speculation. What is not speculation is that the Clintons are highly effective politicians with black belts in media management. Better than black belts, really--they're more like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-level adepts. The media didn't go after the elephants, the whales, the sequoias of previous scandal in the room throughout this whole election cycle. Any intentions to do so were masterfully construed as partisan low blows, personal attacks and not matters of record, off limits and beneath the standards of journalistic ethics. The strategy was brilliant and completely, mystifyingly successful. Even last week, Chelsea Clinton replied to a citizen's question about Monica Lewinsky with a blunt, "That's none of your business." And last weekend, Clinton advisors responded to a blog post by Obama's Iowa coordinator as "disgusting comments" and "gutter politics" for drawing a parallel to the same subject.

Hillary Clinton's Bosnia blunders, transparently false and clumsily self-serving, were like a very-best-of-CD gift set for a previously wrapped-up press. The newsies know Clintonian trustworthiness better than the public, and dodging imaginary snipers provided means to gain fresh purchase on the essence of their wrongness. Her every word was slam-dunk-debunked. It's a wonderful lens to view all the other indiscretions through, a way to boil the byzantine bits down into one digestible stew. The press doesn't have to return to the wearisome details of, oh, heck...there's a Clinton closet for every letter in the alphabet. Why bother going there, when here we've got Hill running across the hostile tarmac of her memory, a foreign policy resume padded with zig-zagging for her life?

Obviously, this has significantly strengthened the odds of an Obama victory; the new Pew Research poll has him up by 10 points, despite pronounced weakness among democratic social conservatives presumably ired by the Reverend Wright comments. (Of course, one in four of those respondents still think Obama is a muslim.) Net-net, if questioning Clintonian integrity is in season again, the campaign for the Democratic Nomination has entered an entirely new phase: denial. Calls for the Clintons to bow out have been made by the party establishment, and ignored.

While the calls aren't going to stop, the Clintons are not mere mortals; like the Bushes, they have "arrived," are cushioned and cosseted by personal reality-bubbles, so a concession appears neither likely nor soon. Rather, I suspect it's time to run up the "embattled fighter" theme, cue the inspirational music from 'Rocky,' and hit back like disgruntled royalty.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

This One Should Be Good...

Josh Brolin, currently receiving rave reviews for his slow-burning performance in the Coen brothers' No Country For Old Men, is to play the current US president, George Bush, in a film to be directed by Oliver Stone. The Platoon director, who has been one of Bush's most virulent critics, calling him "the wrong leader at the wrong time" in 2005, says his biopic will be "a fair, true portrait of the man" and will "contain surprises for Bush supporters and his detractors".

"It's a behind-the-scenes approach, similar to Nixon [Stone's 1995 biopic of the former US president], to give a sense of what it's like to be in his [Bush's] skin," Stone told Variety. "People have turned my political ideas into a cliché, but that is superficial. I'm a dramatist who is interested in people, and I have empathy for Bush as a human being, much the same as I did for Castro, Nixon, Jim Morrison, Jim Garrison and Alexander the Great."

Stone says that the forthcoming movie, which could begin filming as soon as April and be released in time for Bush's departure from the Oval Office, will focus on certain key events of the president's life. "How did Bush go from an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world," asked Stone." It's like Frank Capra territory on one hand, but I'll also cover the demons in his private life, his bouts with his dad and his conversion to Christianity, which explains a lot of where he is coming from.

"It includes his belief that God personally chose him to be president of the United States, and his coming into his own with the stunning, preemptive attack on Iraq," Stone added.

Regarding its lead star, Stone said Brolin was better looking than Bush, "but has the same drive and charisma that Americans identify with Bush, who has some of that old-time movie-star swagger."

The White House has yet to comment on the project.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Clintoniavelli: Why Hillary Is Campaigning For John McCain

Why haven't the Clintons, smart and ruthless politicos that they are, dropped out of Hillary's candidacy? They know they can't win the Democratic nomination and are damaging their party, and they do think of it as fully theirs, more every day. So let's try surveying the terrain from their perspective, even thinking like them: 'Ok, so things didn't work out as planned, but we've still got checkmate if we knee-cap Obama. McCain becomes President, he's stuck with an economic "Repression," a decayed Mid-East occupation, and he's got cancer. The country will be more beat up, more ready for Hillary in 2012. Now, we will have to take out Pretty Boy a little more obviously than we took out Gore, Dean, and Kerry. Then Big Dog just gotta wait a little while.'

To them, the Democratic Party is their castle, and they will pour boiling oil over constituents before they lose it. Playing to the gutter of American history and human sentiment may not yet achieve the Clintons' goals; a smeared Obama is a tested Obama, and people understand that t
he more endangered the system, the more important its quality of leadership. While a polling lead has decreased, he will be running against the atrabilious John McCain, the Barnum & Bailey of lobbyists awaiting his own turns in the mea culpa spotlight. But the kitchen sink phase of Hillary's run might also work. If it does, Hillary's Berserker Campaign for 2012, an article by author Jeffrey St. Clair, will have been prescient indeed. If it fails he's only one insight shy, and truly has a handle on the Clintons: culled from pulse polls and focus groups probing the hidden prejudices in the psyche of white America are being packed like shrapnel into political landmines set for Obama: he's unpatriotic, he's un-Christian, he's a Palestinian symp and, yes, he's black. That's three strikes and one head shot. Exploitation of racial panic is second nature to the power couple Ishmael Reed calls Ma and Pa Clinton.

Bill Clinton launched his 1992 campaign by personally overseeing the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a brain-damaged young black man. He wagged his finger at the rapper Sister Souljah, denouncing her music and political opinions as a danger to young minds. The Clintons pilloried their one-time friend Lani Guinier for her legal writings on the status of blacks and women and booted Dr. Jocelyn Elders from her position as Surgeon General for her refreshingly candid statements about the utility of condoms and masturbation for sexually active youths.

And that's how they treated people they knew. At a structural level, the Clintons' economic and social agenda, incubated at the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, struck directly at poorest precincts of America, targeting blacks and Hispanics with a fervor not seen since Pat Buchanan and Kevin Phillips crafted the infamous Southern Strategy for Richard Nixon. Hence, the dismantling of welfare, harsh federal crime bills, the refusal to intervene against racial profiling or redress the grievous injustices caused by the racially-motivated sentences handed out for crack cocaine.

The fallout from Ms. Clinton's racially-tinged blitz against Obama will spread far and wide across her party like the toxic particles from a nuclear blast. They've done it all before. The Clintons' reckless first two years in the White House, from the heavy-handed Travel Office fiasco to the fires of Waco and HRC's sophomoric bungling of the health care reform, spurred the GOP takeover of congress in 1994, which they used to their political profit.

Then in 1996, Clinton refused to allocate DNC money to tight senate and congressional races, a miserly tactic that allowed the faltering Republicans to retain control of both houses of Congress. It was a cynical decision that many high-ranking Democrats believe constituted a deliberate sabotage of the party's prospects, designed to secure a monopoly-like control of the party apparatus for the Clintons, turning the DNC into their own private PAC.
Read the full article here, surfaced by Bruce at The River Blog.

Monday, March 24, 2008

4,000 US Soldiers Killed

Wrapping up a nine-day overseas trip to Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney was asked, in an exclusive interview with ABC News, about the effect on the nation of today's grim milestone of at least 4,000 U.S. deaths over the five-year Iraq war:

"A lot of men and women sign up because sometimes they will see developments," Cheney said. "For example, 9/11 stimulated a lot of folks to volunteer for the military because they wanted to be involved in defending the country."

I took the liberty of expostulating further, to what he was really saying:

"Not only did we let them defend their country, we even paid them their monthly $1,600.04 checks. With free medical care on top of that. They wanted to get involved, so we got them involved. Even better, we added excitement to their joyless, pointless little lives, and I'm told by the experts that being blown up is the ultimate experience. You can't find that kind of stimulation working at a Walmart, can you? And for all the National Guard people who signed up to have a little fun a weekend a month, and are whining? well they got to come along for the ride, the privilege to serve their country for as many as three tours so far. This is the Long War, the Global War on Terror, and caveat emptor is latin for being American."
Cheney wasn't content to stop there. After the reporter brought up the unexpected burdens placed on military families, the Vice President reminded her that the biggest burden is carried by President Bush. Yeah. It must be terrible for him. Maybe one day a returning, highly-trained volunteer soldier will alleviate his suffering.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Inequality, If You Can Keep It: The Demise Of Manifest Ethnicity

America. So often, it's like the boss who walks into your office, turning around to ask: "Do these pants make my ass look fat?" While it may be sorely tempting to say, "Good god, what do you think?," one is expected to elide and evade, even to elicit a providential slimming from reality. The primate's point in these exchanges is to solicit a supportive yet contrary protest, to confirm and test a hierarchy in so doing, to read for signs of trust and betrayal. Hierarchies are constantly eroded, exchanged, cashiered, and in ours, eventually once-distant realities seem close-drawn, in fact wait right outside on the porch-steps in the rain. They wait to state the obvious and say, "Your ass is so big, it couldn't fit on Mount Rushmore. It's bigger than Brooklyn." The national buttocks which comprise our collective broadcast-brain have lately been asking rather different questions of fashion and taste, telling variations on a theme: "Do these clan robes make me look racist?"

Over half the children now born in America arrive with a skin color. We are no longer a pale-faced country, and our best future is not aristocracy writ white. Yet as the post-racial days knock on our door, the Clinton campaign darkened Barack Obama's skin tone in one of their Texas commercials. In their other fear-o-gram known as the 3AM Call
(suggested riposte: "Bill, wake up, it's for you!), they arranged the letters "N-I-G" just to the left of the phone's handset, a subliminal message written on a sleeping boy's pajamas spanning seconds 12 thru 15. Nice, huh? They surfaced a sound-bitten call-to-repentance sermon Chicago's Reverend Wright gave 7 years ago at The Trinity United Church of Christ. True, scandalous things were said by the reverend, such as-- America is a murderous and corrupt country--guilty of its own terrorism--god damns white people for their sins. So the media reflexively pantomimed (reading the body language is much easier with the sound turned off) a trip to the whipping post for Bad Blacks. Equality, real post-racism equality, cannot be granted by the hand of white man nor woman. It must be won.

The fear-mongers' calls also contained a golden opportunity, one which was seized this Tuesday in the cradle of liberty, Philadelphia of all places, by Barack Obama. He gave a speech which defined Reverend Wright's controversial remarks as divisive and undesired, which dunked Clintonianism's hypocritical, Church-Lady dualism as divisive and outmoded. He defined mixed ethnicity as an American strength, a sensible foundation for greater equity, and used the Constitution and its intents to gird that notion with armor. A test was passed, and although there are already over 2.5 million viewings of the speech on YouTube, the media and public haven't yet fully recognized how remarkable a speech it was. T
he Philadelphia Speech is morphically resonant. Historic. Both subtle and challenging, it dared to square off and talk about America's special relationships with race and equality, as Jon Stewart joked, as if...we were...adults! By finally doing so, a spell was broken. Americans can talk about racial issues as adults. The speech will work its way into our collective consciousness, one day to be looked back on as a necessary milestone we crossed, part of our nation's destiny.

When the Founders argued, beat on tables with canes and walked out of meeting rooms in a rage, you would expect it might've been over their prospects, pretty likely, of being hanged for treason. But by far their worst disputes were over race. The economic basis of the southern states, a.k.a. industrial slavery, caused great rancor back then and was insoluble, absolutely unbridgeable. Benjamin Franklin, mastermind of the government's birth, emerged from convention hall on September 18th, 1787 after the Great Compromise ("we'll punt on slavery so we can free ourselves first") finally got the southern signatures. A certain Mrs. Powell, political junkie of her times, was waiting outside on the steps. "Well, doctor," she asked, "what have we got? A republic, or a monarchy?" "A republic, madam, if you can keep it," was Mr. Franklin's frank reply, teferring to long-term threats posed by fundamental and philosophical disagreement, conflicts on genetic, biblical, and Boethian-Manichean scales.

How much Franklin presaged by so few words! How well he conveyed the split personality apparent in nearly all subsequent American affairs, from the waspish manifest ethnicity underpinning expansionist Manifest Destiny to the racial codes connected to communism. Across the street from Convention Hall, Obama started to build where Franklin left off, explaining the United States as no modern candidate or President has ever explained it:
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
A document about equality was signed, but unfinished, leaving us with a scathing paradox. It would take a million gallons of American blood to dispense with pernicious practice and end America's stature as international pariah. But granting freedom didn't grant equality, and granting equality didn't grant the access in tune with Constitutional ideals. I wonder if Franklin, far-seeing a hominid as ever was, saw across the street to this day. Obama is a firmamental allegory of how to finally move past the American paradox, a Tuskegee Airman of our politics, "black" yet objective. "Other" yet authentic:
I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
"Barack Obama" the man, the myth, the motor-mouth, he knows who and what he is. He's keenly aware of his symbolism, no one more so, and his ambition is to use it to further a civil liberties agenda. (Hillary Clinton said, "It took a white man to make the Civil Rights Act." Yes, emphatically, these clan robes do make us look racist.) He
has the temerity to wholeheartedly believe in a more perfect union, knows he is the embodiment of it, and knows equity will not be granted by a white president. We have a windmill-tilting Leveller, a Cinderella triple-threat to the established order, a Constitutional scholar who sees the document as a cooperative, iterative process on our hands. The only reason we keep looking the gift horse in the mouth is we've been trained to think one's no longer possible, we wouldn't deserve it if it were, and equity is communism.

600,000 self-described conservatives voted in the Texas primary for Hillary Clinton because Rush Limbaugh told them to. It's why she won the primary but lost the caucus (losing the state by a net 13 delegates). Limbaugh told them to vote Hillary for various reasons, the biggest because he sells fear of a black planet wrapped in fear of al-Qaeda, and making him object to statements like
"We will close Guantanamo, we will restore habeus corpus, we will have a president who will respect and obey the Constitution."
Rush Limbaugh embodies one possible American future, a future in which a minority is forced to become even more hypocritical, deceitful, and vicious in order to maintain a perceived position in wealth and power. Sure, wealth can probably be concentrated into still fewer hands headed off to more exotic lands, and I suppose debt could be incurred even faster, in more follies than it already is. I suppose the country, given its proven capacities, could perhaps lie its way through a fourth Bush or a third Clinton administration. Still, it would be nice if we could avoid eventually becoming a larger version of Argentina or Brazil. Which is the path we're on. Nothing would please Rush as an entertainer better than a black man elected President--nothing would piss his audience off more than witnessing the literal fulfillment of the words of our country's Constitution. And that is where the perfection begins.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

SeaGen: Tidal Turbine To Go Online, Speak Gaelic

Darn. Too bad we don't have tides here in Northern America! Via Sky News:
Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland is to get the world's first turbine capable of generating commercial amounts of electricity from tidal energy. Bristol-based Marine Current Turbines (MCT) said that the installation will go ahead on Easter Monday, subject to favourable weather and further engineering work.

SeaGen is the biggest turbine of its kind in the world, with the capacity to produce 1.2MW of electricity - four times more than any other tidal turbine - and will generate clean and sustainable electricity for around 1,000 homes. The giant turbine is environmentally friendly - it makes no noise, is almost completely below the surface of the water, never runs out and has zero emissions. MCT has been given permission to install and operate SeaGen in the mouth of Strangford Lough - one of the fastest tidal flows in the world - for five years. The company says it believes it will be realistic to achieve up to 500MW of tidal capacity by 2015, based on the SeaGen technology.

Here's the web site for Marine Current Turbines, a more or less Scottish company. Nearer to the Hordes, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has frozen new applications in Washington State, and Tacoma Power appears to have been the first utility in the United States to file for a tidal energy project.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Steven Pizzo: The Good vs. The Bad And Ugly

(Vid above of Keith Olberman's smack-down of Geraldine Ferraro's recent race-baiting. Commentary below by Steven Pizzo, a journalist and author who writes News For Real.)

What are you going to do if Hillary Clinton succeeds bagging the Democratic Party nomination for President by playing dirty. I've begun thinking about that more and more over the last couple of weeks. The Clintons have built their entire political lives on the premise that, if they can't win pretty, they'll settle for winning ugly.

Which is why things have gotten so ugly lately. Once it became clear she could not beat Obama in a fair fight they switched tactics. IED's (Insinuations, Exaggerations and Distortions)

"Is Obama a Muslim." Hillary was asked on 60-Minutes. "No. Not as far as I know," she replied.


"Obama is not ready to become Commander-in-Chief," Hillary warns then coyly adds, if voters on the fence pick her, she'd consider putting Obama a heartbeat away from becoming Commander-in-Chief.


"I have crossed the threshold and met the national security test to be Commander-in-Chief," Hillary says. "John McCain has also met that test. Obama gave a speech."


"The reason Obama has gotten where he is today is because he's black," pronounced Clinton supporter and finance committee big shot, Geraldine Ferraro.


are now the weapons of choice for the Clinton campaign. Hardly a day goes by now when one of these IEDs doesn't explode into the news.
BTW -- that was not the first time Ferraro set off a racial IED in the midst of a presidential primary.

A Ferraro flashback
"If Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn't be in the race," she said.

Really. The cite is an April 15, 1988 Washington Post story (byline: Howard Kurtz), available only on Nexis.

Placid of demeanor but pointed in his rhetoric, Jackson struck out repeatedly today against those who suggest his race has been an asset in the campaign. President Reagan suggested Tuesday that people don't ask Jackson tough questions because of his race. And former representative Geraldine A. Ferraro (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that because of his "radical" views, "if Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn't be in the race."

Asked about this at a campaign stop in Buffalo, Jackson at first seemed ready to pounce fiercely on his critics. But then he stopped, took a breath, and said quietly, "Millions of Americans have a point of view different from" Ferraro's.

 Discussing the same point in Washington, Jackson said, "We campaigned across the South . . . without a single catcall or boo. It was not until we got North to New York that we began to hear this from Koch, President Reagan and then Mrs. Ferraro . . . . Some people are making hysteria while I'm making history." (

A few weeks back Bill Clinton detonated an almost identical Jesse Jackson IED. Coincidence? No way...


Can you imagine!
I never thought I'd see a leading Democrat dip back to the tactics of the dark days when racist Democrats ruled the segregated South, playing the fears of whites against the hopes of blacks. Disgusting.

But insurgencies are, by necessity, ugly business. Inevitably there will be collateral damage. Innocents will be hurt. The means are ugly, but the ends will make amends --we are assured. Once they win, the insurgents promise, they will get rid of the bad and the ugly and herald in the good.

Hillary holds up her role as First Lady as the reason she's "ready to lead from day one," and there may be some truth in that. Among the things she learned during those days was how run parallel political and insurgent actions. She learned this when husband Bill helped negotiate a settlement in Northern Ireland. While the Irish Republican Army conducted the ugly part of their insurgency the leader of its political arm, Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, stayed above it all making nice in Parliament. When his IRA fighters blew something, (or someone) up, Adams would bemoan the violence, even condemn it. Then he'd offer his political solutions/demands.

Obama has already won the hearts and minds of the majority of Democratic voters. If she stops the IEDs now Obama would have a nearly unobstructed path to the nomination. She's can no longer count on just slowing him down, she's got to stop him. She needs to wound him so badly he can no longer win.

There's two ways to get this nomination: win it fair and square, or finagle it. Since she can no longer win, she's now onto finagling. Which means encouraging her surrogates to keep planting IEDs while she works the political angles -- Super-delegates, seating Michigan and Florida delegates, etc.

Meanwhile out on the field of battle her surrogates have turned to the nuclear option -- or as her own spokesmanr and snake turned snake charmer, Howard Wolfson describe it, "the kitchen sink strategy."

Call it what you like, boiled down to its essence it can be summed up as, "an IED a day keeps the nomination away" -- from Obama.

Sure it's dirty fighting. And sure, if successful it will leave the Democratic Party looking like Beirut on a bad day. And sure her victory would only reinforce the very kind of politics that have torn the nation apart since Newt Gingrich and his kind marched to power. And sure an ugly Clinton victory risks outraging Obama supporters to such an extent many will not even show up to vote in November, virtually guaranteeing another four years of GOP rule.

But those probabilities appear not to matter to Hillary Clinton. If she can't have the prize she'll make sure her opponent inherits a scorched political landscape; a party in disarray. a fractured party embroiled in a very un-civil war. It could even mean the end of the Democratic Party as a force in progressive politics -- not that the party has been much of a force in that direction anyway. But at least it would end the pretense.

Then there's African American voters who will feel betrayed, snookered and humiliated by the party they've supported through thick and thin for decades. And all those young Democrats, new to the process, who will retreat into cynical complacency. And why not? Why participate in a process where the best values and behavior are routinely trumped by the worst values and behavior?

So, have you been thinking about it too? About what you're going to do on election day next November if your choice is between the Republican version of Mr. Magoo and the Democrat's version of Imelda Marcos?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Comintern Capitalism, Moral Hazards, & Bear Stearns

Three days after Wall Street partied hearty over its latest 200 billion dollar bail-out, the swains at Bear Stearns blurted out that they're, ummm, dead. Death not being allowed, in course they will require expensive resuscitation from JP Morgan Chase and the Federal Reserve Bank. (So, the 200 large flashed on Tuesday wasn't enough?) Never the most forthcoming of creatures except (in my personal observation) on matters of obscenity, B-S execs blindsided their investors with insolvency, the already-sunken share price losing half its value in an hour.

Since banks are required to hold only pitiful, essentially meaningless slivers of their deposits in reserve, their actual health is highly correlated with perceptions of their health, and vice-versa. Although Bear Stearns bankers will come to work next week, who will they find to do business with them? And who other than the Usual Suspects will now claim the housing crisis hasn't bled out into a banking crisis? Bear Stearns quickly hired old-line firm Lazard Freres to study "strategic alternatives," such as getting cut up like a diseased ox and parceled out to whatever lucky firms get to take on the carrion in return for Federal Reserve promissory notes. The inflation resulting from this and other massive credit transfusions will take only 6 months to hit the grocery stores, where the surly beast has already gathered speed and looks on the mark of running wild.

People ask me to explain various Wall Street thingies, and my reply should usually be, "Well if I understood, wouldn't I still be working there?" In truth it's almost twenty years since I last donned the black exchange jacket. During that gap, financial "derivatives" (in old lingua fracas, "bets") have grown rather prettified, and the underpinning values of some securities pulled by hidden gears and distant block-and-tackle rigs are leveraged 100:1 or even more. Charmingly, right along with the rest of us little people, neither big sellers nor big buyers understand them.

Lack of understanding is why French and German banks and public funds got screwed when Goldman Sachs sagaciously unloaded its termite-eaten, triple-A rated mortgage-backed securities. The guys with the funny accents were nodding and saying, "Wow, what a great yield on our investment for so little risk. We can stockpile these babies, rest easy, and watch the money roll in. Because Moody's (the bond rating service) and Goldman Sachs (most successful Wall St. investment bank for last 20 years) say we can! And what could be safer than real estate?" Now little invest-a-lambs like the state retirement fund for Nordrhein-Westfalen are fleeced, whereas Bergen (a city in Norway) can't maintain its roads because of mortgage write-offs. Big pros like Banque Paribas, a huge consumer of mortgage-backed securities, was forced to fictionalize a "rogue trader" as being solely responsible for about $20 billion in losses. (Smooth move, Goldmanites.)

Derivatives and their markets may be unregulated and opaque, but on a fundamental level, understanding high finance is a snap. Macro or micro, Wall Street runs on promises. When a broker walked up to my stock exchange booth and wanted to do a 100,000 share block trade, we would eventually settle on a price, and he or she would hastily scrawl the order down on a little slip of paper, in pencil, handing it to me and fully expecting my employers to honor it. After all, I made a promise, although millions of dollars were to be transferred on nothing more secure than eye contact and chicken scratch.

Every investment also hinges on a simple question: if you're screwed, what recourse do you have? In the above example, if I made a bad mistake like selling the stock too cheap, or it otherwise hurt my firm's position, I could choose to DK it (DK="Don't Know"), denying the transaction's validity. Usually such disputes are compromised via back office horse-trading. Interestingly, despite all the added high-tech training wheels and record-keeping intended to eliminate the DK rate, it is as resistant to eradication as the common cold, remaining just above 1% of transacted value. That was the rate when Wall Street brokers were still dropping their orders out of windows to the curb below. (The American Stock Exchange's nickname is still "The Curb.") The thing is, that broker would know I broke a promise, and thus I would imperil both my firm's and my own, especially my own, reputation. Reputation is currency. If the broker worked at an important firm and had recourse, I could get fired as a small part of compensation.

At the very least a correspondingly large debit would be withdrawn from my boss's Favor Bank to cover my malfeasance, favors which came precious hard. While the temptation to break promises would at times be extreme, the consequences for doing so were hard to predict, and often severe. So there you have it. Operationally, conceptually, really, that's how "Wall Street" works. The whole thing starts off as volumes of verbal commitments, they're transformed into bets by bevies of bookies, then entered electronically into a nexus of contracts with a million nodes. Finance is a nexus of contracts, and trades are the peroracyon of promises.

At the moment, promises are being broken wholesale, all over the Street. Not just to last-in-line nobodies, neither. Some investors in sexy $2-mill minimum hedge funds can't get their money out while they're staring down the abyss of hyperinflation. If you have money, you've gotta hate that. Of course in a fair world Bear Stearns would be allowed to die, and all the investors who believed the spiels, coming from one of the most obnoxious, sleazy firms to ever swim the Moral Hazards, would be shit out of luck. But they won't be, and neither will the executives and investors of the next bank failures; rather, their poor judgment and fixity of greed will be rewarded with federal Get-Out-Of-Poverty Free cards. The corporate bail-out creates its own moral hazard, because if a game is rigged, the players soon forget how to play it well.

The Fed will issue statements of stalwart support this weekend, probably as I write this sentence, and likely they'll cut the interest rate an unprecedented full percentage point this coming week. Taking some of the pain required to keep the financial system from spiraling out of control, understandable as that would be after decades of headlong credit expansion, is unthinkable. One must remember, these are the very same down-is-up economists from supply-side Munchkin-Land who turned borrowing into a virtue, saving into a vice. Just like the totalitarian communists continually bailed out failing factories and collective farms, our totalitarians are going to bail
bail out every bloated, overindulgent, discredited bank under their protection.

So why can't Bear Stearns just effing die? Hmm. Maybe I should ask another question. What good are free markets when you've painstakingly built a command economy? Rather than let Wall Street take it on the chin, it is preferable to break the currency, then gaze in the distance and whistle innocently. Hoping no one will notice.
(Hyperinflation. It can happen here.) These dubious bozos are going to make the S&L crisis look like a round of miniature golf, but that's ok. The important thing, that very American thing, is that we can all get rich. Though it be the extent of a logical conclusion which becomes ridiculous, countless handsome charts have proven that the best way to get rich is to invest in the stock market. Perceptions of its health trump all other concerns.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

They're Not Gone Yet

Like the muted, hockey-masked monster 'Jason' in Halloween: The Recapitulation Pt. XIX after he's been run through with a telephone pole, drowned in an acid vat, attacked by mechanical sharks and then feted with a flamethrower flambee, it's tempting to heave a sigh of relief and say, "Thank god they're finally dead" about the minions of Castle Bush. Unfortunately, that's not how horror movies work. The monsters have to be really, really, really dead, as in obliterated, and even then you know it's only a matter of time for them to some-how, some-way find their way back. And these things are not dead yet.

As proof neither the fork-tongued zombie reptiles nor their ambitions have yet been thwarted, they just made the CENTCOM commander resign over a minor magazine article. Regarded as the best strategic mind in the US command, Admiral William Fallon was quoted by a source (probably a Senate confirmation committee member) as privately saying an attack on Iran "Will not happen on my watch." The anonymous confirmation source also related Fallon as saying:
"You know what choices I have. I'm a professional. There are several of us trying to put the crazies back into the box."
Fallon's resignation comes in the wake of this month's Esquire article, one which focused on his resistance to administration warmongering. Amongst other things, he vetoed the deployment of a third carrier task force to the Persian Gulf last spring, a move which blocked the surprised Cheney Faction from further attack preparations. At the time, there were conflicting reports from the White House and the Navy about the USS Nimitz Task Force's destination, shortly after I sounded a blog alarm: three carrier battle groups were about to join two amphibious marine assault carrier groups off Iran. Not good.

A Navy press release closely followed the Nimitz departure, stated that the USS Eisenhower would be rotated out of the Gulf and would not overlap with the Nimitz on-station; the mixed signals can be retroactively disambiguated, and it looks like the call to deescalate was the CENTCOM commander's alone. Last week's Esquire article described his contribution, and predicted the possible effects of his demise:
If, in the dying light of the Bush administration, we go to war with Iran, it'll all come down to one man. If we do not go to war with Iran, it'll come down to the same man. He is that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance. His name is William Fallon, although all of his friends call him "Fox," which was his fighter-pilot call sign decades ago. [...]

Just as Fallon took over Centcom last spring, the White House was putting itself on a war footing with Iran. Almost instantly, Fallon began to calmly push back against what he saw as an ill-advised action. Over the course of 2007, Fallon's statements in the press grew increasingly dismissive of the possibility of war, creating serious friction with the White House.

Last December, when the National Intelligence Estimate downgraded the immediate nuclear threat from Iran, it seemed as if Fallon's caution was justified. But still, well-placed observers now say that it will come as no surprise if Fallon is relieved of his command before his time is up next spring, maybe as early as this summer, in favor of a commander the White House considers to be more pliable. If that were to happen, it may well mean that the president and vice-president intend to take military action against Iran before the end of this year and don't want a commander standing in their way.

If you've spent any time boning up on who The Crazies are and the crypts they come from, you know they're Washington's most experienced politicians, and that their box must be incinerated and its ashes scattered before full denouement and decompression. You have to hope Fallon has plenty more Friends.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Feeding The Mouths That Bite

In 2005, the Jacobin ideologues who cling to the Bush Administration like cow farts in a barn wanted free and fair elections held in Palestine. "Yasser Arafat's marginalized because he's dead. That opened a grand path to peace," went the thinking, "and the solution is obvious. Let's turn Palestine into a democracy. That'll fix everything." Oddly, free and fair elections somehow transpired, and on the eve of them Dubya prompted hisself to beneficently proclaim, "We make elections."

Problem was, the Palestinian people apparently harbored inexplicable hostility to US designs, and they swept Hamas (aka "the evil doers," the Eye-Ranyans, Ay-raabs, etc) into power. The poor result was a matter of distress and dyspepsia to the Jacobins, or castle-in-air neo-cons, and the mess was shrouded in dissimulation and silence. If publicly discussed at all, the wreck was blamed upon froward and fickle natures understandably inherent to former savages, having been so recently ennobled with the rites of voting.

Therefore, thwarted by whims of a misguided populace, the rabbinical hermeticists who ran our curiously flawed policies arrived at their next verdict: clearly the best means way to redress this unsightly blot on democracy's perfect track record was to send truckloads of cash and AK-47s to Fatah, the party Palestinians had voted out, and start a vicious civil war.

For someone who has deployed anti-neocon nets around the bed, it was easy enough to connect the dots at the time, even if only in private. It's so tiresome to be called an anti-Semite, after all. Now, however, a concerned party in the State Department has quite helpfully leaked an internal memo outlining the civil war scheme to Vanity Fair. Thank you, brave patriot, for getting that on the record:

According to Dahlan, it was Bush who had pushed legislative elections in the Palestinian territories in January 2006, despite warnings that Fatah was not ready. After Hamas—whose 1988 charter committed it to the goal of driving Israel into the sea—won control of the parliament, Bush made another, deadlier miscalculation.

Vanity Fair has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.)

But the secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush. Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza.

These pedestrian putzes. May they learn that the penalty for political malpractice is reality.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Psyche's News Roundup

NPR: Obama Ahead in Texas Caucuses (Clinton lost TX)

The Raw Story | Bush vetoes bill outlawing CIA waterboarding

Telecom Immunity: Bare-bones Congressional Felony

Tucker Carlson unintentionally reveals the role of the American press - (to suck up)

Clinton's experience claim under scrutiny -- (no foreign policy experience)

Talking Points Memo | Temper, temper ... (McCain flips out at reporter -- Commander in Chief material)

Elevated Electric Bill Prompts Pot Raid - March 30, 2004

ABC News: 'Iceman' Continues to Baffle Doctors

YouTube - We Are The Web

Daily Kos: Updated 2x - Why isn't MSM reporting the truth about NAFTA Clinton Involvement??? (dirty Hillary)

CBC Canada: Hillary's dirty tricks are big news 'NAFTAgate' began with remark from Harper's chief of staff

Samantha Power Resigns Over Hillary "Monster" Remark - Politics on The Huffington Post

Firedoglake » Why Is Hillary Campaigning For John McCain?

Daily Kos: Desperate Clinton crosses 'the Joe Lieberman threshold' - Official threatens voter fraud whistleblower Audio only

Jobs Decline Most in Five Years - Economy -

Larry David: On the Red Phone - Politics on The Huffington Post

Is Vanity Fair's Ignored Scoop | (Too Many Bush/Cheney Crimes)

ILWU to Shut Down West Coast Ports May 1 Demanding End to War in Iraq, Afghanistan : Indybay

Harvard gym tests Muslim women-only hours - Education-

Pentagon attack last June stole an "amazing amount" of data

Publishers are braced for the slow death of the book - Times Online

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bush Versus The Today Show
"Bush: And as people are now beginning to see, Iraq is changing, democracy is beginning to tak[e] hold. And I'm convinced 50 years from now people look back and say thank God there was those who were willing to sacrifice.

"Curry: But you're saying you're going to have to carry that burden... Some Americans believe that they feel they're carrying the burden because of this economy.

"Bush: Yeah, well --

"Curry: They say -- they say they're suffering because of this.

"Bush: I don't agree with that.

"Curry: You don't agree with that? Has nothing do with the economy, the war? The spending on the war?

"Bush: I don't think so. I think actually, the spending on the war might help with jobs.

"Curry: Oh, yeah?

"Bush: Yeah, because we're buying equipment, and people are working. I think this economy is down because we built too many houses."

Media Mavens Beg For Primaries To End

A visibly exhausted Wolf Blitzer melted down in CNN's Situation Room today, suddenly turning away from a holographic display specially invented to explain the trans-dimensional Texas primaries, stating "Can Senator Clinton suffer a setback and keep on going? Wait a minute. No, no, that's it. Look, people--I'm sorry. I can't take the over-analysis anymore. Just let the Texans vote!"

Blitzer's attitude was apparently catching, with MSNBC's Tim Russert describing guest political commentator James Carville as a "glass-chewing bat-eared freak" who he advised to "get help or go back on meds." Russert then responded to conservative guest William Bennett in a low-voiced aside, "Take another trip to Vegas, Sparky," an apparent reference to Mr. Bennett's rumored gambling addiction.

Ok, those things only happened in the achievable fantasies of my mind. Rather, the media exists to sell air time by accentuating controversy, and behind their airbrushed earnesty the talking heads currently look as if they're about to pop like champagne corks. They're happy because Barack Obama's string of victories appears to be broken, an 11-primary run in which his smallest margin of victory was by 17 percentage points. After an absence of two centuries, Vermont and Rhode Island are electorally meaningful again. The Heads are even happier with the thought of a divided Democratic convention, which appears increasingly likely.

Simple math dictates that Hillary Clinton can't overtake Obama in either pledged delegates or popular votes; to draw even in delegates, she would have to win all remaining 16 states by 20 percentage points, a margin Obama leads by in Vermont and Mississippi surveys. Obama has nearly drawn even in committed superdelegates, a group generally not distinguished by the courage of its convictions and which knows going against a home state's popular vote is to quaff political pesticide. Yet even if he takes a lead amongst superdelegates, it's still possible that Obama would fall short of the 2,024 delegates required to take his party's nomination.

The Clinton plan to win boils down to "seating" Michigan and Florida delegates, ones currently disallowed because each state chose to break party rules by holding early primaries. The Clinton campaign pleads that these states shouldn't be disenfranchised, and while they'll probably not be allowed to pencil down all those delegates as theirs, the disenfranchisement argument is strong. There has been talk of Michigan and Florida holding do-over caucuses; the Democratic National Committee (chaired by Howard Dean) loves caucuses because they've gotten lots of new people to register and existing members more involved than any time since 1959. The DNC has already gone on the record pushing Michigan to caucus. The contest may not extend beyond June, but the nomination may ultimately come down to those two prodigal states. Party leadership is ready to proffer a compromise of caucuses, and the Clintons will be in no position to turn it down.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A New Dance--South American Proxy Wars

Colombia, a United States satellite and illicit drug source since the Polk Administration (1845-49), invaded Ecuador to kill some harbored FARC leaders; what at first blush seems a routine violation of a weak nation's sovereignty is on deeper reflection more serious. A domino's track of consequences is likely to tip, the most immediate of which is that Ecuador and Venezuela have withdrawn their ambassadors, and Hugo Chavez just ordered Venezuela's armored forces to the Colombian border. These actions must be considered a challenge to a long-established sphere of northern influence.

The background of US-Colombia relations may be obscured or even hidden from most Americans, but US interventionism has been a direct, violent, and frequent feature of Colombian life for over 150 years. Polk signed a treaty with Colombia in 1846 to control access to the railway across the narrow isthmus separating the Atlantic and Pacific, preparing for the vision of a trans-oceanic canal. And before 1900, US troops were called in to crush native rebellions six times.

In 1903, the Hay-Herran Treaty granted the United States renewable 99-year leases to a promising swath of land in return for $10 million plus a yearly stipend. The amount was considered insultingly small and Colombian senators refused to ratify the treaty, so US commercial interests found it expedient to support a rebellion in a region of Colombia known as Panama. The region broke away as a protectorate under the New Panama Canal Company, becoming a de facto US territory and a tremendous strategic asset. Goods and vessels of any offending nation could be barred passage through the portage, and eventually the Canal. The only alternative was the long journey around Cape Horn, a squally, ice-berg ridden graveyard with strong winds, currents, and notorious 100-foot high rogue waves dreaded by mariners to this day. As Panama's right-hand anchor, controlling Colombia has been a steady necessity.

Successfully upholding pro-US policies contrary to the interests of Colombia's majority, dictatorships have been beset by its by-products: chronic government weakness, a steeply stratified society, cartel combinations, violence, a golden parachute mindset amongst elites, popular resistance, kidnapping, and persistent forms of organized rebellion. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) is a usual enemy of Colombia's para-military dictators, President Uribe a latest incarnation. Roughly 40 years old, FARC is a somewhat anachronistic Marxist-Leninist guerilla organization with upwards of 10,000 troops, and it was their international spokesman Raul Reyes and a reported 14 others who were killed yesterday in Ecuador.

In the past 7 years, the situation in South America has changed dramatically, to the extent that merely breaking the FARC will not tilt the balance in North America's favor. In 2001, the Bush Administration consciously shelved plans to nip a budding Hugo Chavez in favor of focusing on greater Iraq's transformation. The intervening time has allowed the ghost of Simon Bolivar to haunt. Ecuador elected its first native President, a government which naturally favored the FARC and its sentiments, Chavez has been piling up abundant oil revenues and parceling out anti-imperialist favors across the region in which China is replacing an ejected Exxon, and undersea oil has been discovered just north of Cuba. Chavez has bought Russian arms, munitions, training, and the world's best fighter jets.

Chavez is a man with an exquisite sense of the hour, a master of anti-imperialist positioning, and his timing is impeccable. Now, in the twilight of a distracted and frustrated BushCo, a retrograde threat of retaliation, and the coming regime change in the US, he knows it's an excellent time to up ante. His tanks will probably not cross the border into Colombia, but he can credibly claim active US aggression, real or imagined, and Venezuela is the closest and biggest foreign supplier of oil to North America. If he shuts off the spigot, anyone else in the world will pay the same (rather higher), and the resulting temporary supply disruption would serve his domestic and foreign diplomatic needs nicely.

Any incoming Administration would have to negotiate with Chavez, validating his approach and giving leverage to Simon Bolivar's pan-American agenda. Colombia's position is tenuous in terms of American support, low down on the priority list; Venezuela and Ecuador could probably embarrass it in a border war. That may not fully develop, but we should expect a Venezuelan oil embargo, its price going to $125 per barrel in May or June.