Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wikileaks and American 'Rare Earths' Policy: The Case for Spy vs. Spy

News that China is further restricting exports of so-called "rare earths" metals - not so rare, in fact, as their name comes from where they are located on the Periodic Table of elements - illustrates the hypocricy of the knee-jerk reaction to the infamous Wikileaks data dump by politicians across the political spectrum.

The New York Times reports today that China is poised to further tighten the limits on the amount of  'rare earth' metals its mines may export in 2011. 'Rare earth' metals are essential in a wide array of high tech manufacturing processes, from producing advanced car batteries and smart phones, to making solar panels and computer chips.

China's move to further restrict its export quotas, "threatens to cause further difficulties for manufacturers already struggling with short supplies and soaring prices,"the Times reports. "The reduction in quotas for the early months of 2011 — a 35 percent drop in tonnage from the first half of this year — is the latest in a series of measures by Beijing that has gradually curtailed much of the world’s supply of rare earths."

The hypocrisy of lawmakers reactions to the Wikileaks disclosures is that the very document that was most-widely criticized as a threat to U.S. security - a cable to Hilary Clinton setting out a list of the "most critical" overseas infrastructure sites and resources - clearly identifies China's 'rare earths' mines as being vital to U.S. interests. Small wonder, as 'rare metals' are also key used in manufacturing key components of many advanced military hardware systems.

A beggar for punishment, I read the entire critical infrastructures cable that was summarized on the New York Times front page when the Wikileaks scandal first broke. The cable itself is a very boring laundry list of foreign infrastructure sites - mostly ports and the very numerous "landing sites" of the network of undersea cables that interconnects a very connected planet. It also lists Saudi Arabian oil fields and oil export terminals as critical overseas resources and structures. (Crap! That "top secret" information would certainly imperil U.S. interests if Al Qaeda - founded and largely funded by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian . . . for Pete's sake! - were ever to figure out how important Saudi oil exports are to the American economy.)

The three interesting takeaways I got from reading the secret cable's laundry list of the blatantly obvious were (a) how paranoid diplomats are about their ability to send secret diplomatic cables via underwater cables, (b) how many vital pharmaceuticals (including even rabies shots???) are manufactured in Western Europe, the home of (gasp!) socialized medicine, and (c) that China's 'rare earths' metals are, in fact, viewed by U.S. diplomats as a resource critical to U.S. interests.

And yet, the importance of 'rare metals' to U.S. interests (which I was aware of just from casually following CNN) would not have stood out had it not been for an article that I'd read in The Economist, published when China temporarily cut off 'rare earths' exports to Japan, in retaliation for Japan busting a Chinese fishing boat captain caught poaching in 'disputed' Japanese waters.

The article, published September 30th of 2010 - more than a year-and-a-half after the February 18th, 2009 diplomatic cable was sent - was one of the first of many such articles highlighting the dependency of the United States and its allies on Chinese 'rare earth' exports; exports that we now learn are being even further restricted by Chinese officials.

The kicker is, as The Economist points out, that the sole operating U.S. 'rare earth' mine (remember, 'rare earths' are not, in fact, rare) was shuttered in 2002, which was . . . oh, . . . about the time that off shoring American jobs to India and China really took off.

One has to ask: In whose interest was it to keep America's reliance on Chinese 'rare earths' exports a secret? Wouldn't have some lawmakers or consumer groups benefited from the information that for purely private economic reasons the U.S. had become almost wholly reliant on China on resources critical to its defense industries, its cell phone industries, its computer and high tech manufacturing industries?

Oh, right! Just about all of those industries (except perhaps, for the few companies manufacturing really critical defense hardware) have already been exported from the U.S. to China. Which just goes to show . . . "all politics are local, but some politics are just plain loco!"

As Wired Magazine's Evan Hansen ("Why Wikileaks Is Good for America") so eloquently wrote in highlighting the overblown and hypocritical political reaction to the Wikileaks disclosure:

"The greatest threat we face right now from WikiLeaks is not the information it has spilled and may spill in the future, but the reactionary response to it that’s building in the United States that promises to repudiate the rule of law and our free speech traditions, if left unchecked.

Secrecy is routinely posited as a critical component for effective governance, a premise that’s so widely accepted that even some journalists, whose job is to reveal the secret workings of governments, have declared WikiLeaks’ efforts to be out of bounds."
The reactionary, 'wrap yourself around the flag' responses of U.S. politicos to the publication of the leaked documents - some of whom have gone so far as to call for the execution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange - are not only inimical to democratic traditions guarded by a free press, they give cover to government officials who hide or misrepresent issues of vital importance to the country on the pretext of guarding its security.

I am firmly in agreement with Daniel Ellsberg - he of "Pentagon Papers" fame, who blew the whistle on what the military-industrial complex (that Ike warned us of) was up to in Vietnam. Mr. Ellsberg has called for more leaks and disclosure from an overly secretive government, rather than reactionary calls for more secretiveness, censorship and prosecutions.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"What happens on Wall Street . . .er, in Vegas . . . stays in Vegas!"

Wall Street Bond Traders Set Up a Bookmaking Shop in Las Vegas
What a Christmas! Optically-challenged Wall Street bankers are truly the "gift that keeps on giving" to political humorists. The December 25th issue of the New York Times reports that blue-chip bonds trader, Cantor Fitzgerald, is opening a Nevada branch arm to trade in (i.e., make book on). . . drumroll, please . . . Sports Betting!!!

You just cannot make this stuff up, folks.

 Cantor Fitzgerald opens a new sports gambling operation, even though the reputed 'market-makers' obviously lack an effective marketing department? How profoundly 'tone-deaf' can these suspender-clad financial 'quants' be? Out of touch in their lofty Manhattan offices, or locked away in their homes within exclusive gated communities (purchased, no doubt, with their massive bonuses for well or ill-placed bets) have these obtuse bond bookies not heard politicians and commentators of all stripes railing about "closing the casinos on Wall Street" for the past two-and-a-half years?

It was on Wall Street, after all, that traders, such as those at Cantor Fitzgerald, crippled the world economy with huge bets on a market replete with "rigged" mortgage securitizations, exotic derivatives products and still ill-understood financial instruments like collateral debt obligations. Trying to play the "house" on a Wall Street caught up in a housing bubble, firms like Cantor Fitzgerald nearly "lost the house."

And nowWall Street trader want to "diversify" their operations by becoming legal bookies for the action on college and pro sports? (As NFL analyst, Chris Berman, would no doubt roar, "C'mon, Man!")

"Cantor’s push into Vegas," according to the Times, is being led by 61-year-old Lee Amaitis, "whose past includes a conviction in his 20s for dealing cocaine."

“There’s big money in this, especially now that we are moving onto the Strip,” Amaitis, dressed in character, wearing a gray pinstripe suit with the top two buttons of his white shirt undone, told the Times.  "Cantor Gaming," he points out, "mitigates its risk through volume." Sounds like its a classic "numbers racket" to me. Buggsy Siegel, another financial rogue who sought refuge on the wide open Vegas strip would - no doubt - be proud.

"Wall Street executives usually protest when their business is compared to a casino," the Times observes.  However, they note that gaming industry analysts (unsurprisingly) see the logic in Cantor's new gaming subsidiary. “Guys who trade Treasuries are doing it for basis points, and sports betting is not much different,” Jeffrey B. Logsdon, an entertainment and gaming analyst for BMO Capital Markets, told the Times. “Trading a million dollars in Treasuries is different than trading a billion. Sports betting is the same. You want the spread, volume and you see yourself as a match maker.”

Unlike the autumn 2008 break up of Wall Street's epic game of 3-Card 'Housing' Monte that led to the Great Recession and the ensuing financial crises that continue to rock world markets, a subject that will be picked apart and studied by economists and regulators for decades to come, "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."

As noted, you just can't make up such folly. No one would believe you. But no matter how cynical and ironic this move is by one of Wall Street's highest rollers, at least they are being more upfront and intellectually honest about how they made (and will make) their billions: they hedge their bets and make book on the greed and gullibility of the gaming public.

My only question is how the ever-amenable bonds rating agencies, Moody's and Standards & Poor, might be leveraged to continue to shill for Cantor in its newest gambling venture?

But, enough already. . . . My Christmas humor stocking overfloweth!

Monday, November 22, 2010

"There Will Be Blood" Writes Nobel Laureate

Wow! This current level of political dysfunctionalism (if that's even a word?) isn't even funny. . . . It's
(a) unbelievable,
(b) frightening,
(c) sickening,
(d) inevitable, given the outright (outed-right; out-wrong?) cynicism and hypocrisy of Republican elected officials and politicos, or
(e) all of the above.

George W, Bush drives the economy off a cliff and elected Republicans throw it an anchor because there's (gasp!) a Democrat in the White House. If this were kindergarten, the Republican report card would read "doesn't play well with others."

Nobel-laureate and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, writes a sobering op-ed that clearly sets out how unbelievably frightening and sickening the inevitable Republican "do-nothing" obstructionism has become - and how perilous this is for the country.

"Helicopter Ben" Bernanke - say what you want about the Federal Reserve chairman who shot almost the whole wad of tools available to the Fed in order to turn the 'Great Depression II' into the 'Great Recession'- recommends that the powers-that-be do everything they can to promote consumer spending and kickstart a wallowing economy (including extending $300-a-week unemployment benefits to those of the 8 million Americans that lost their jobs during George W. Shrub's administration who haven't found one of the few jobs created under Obama).

And what's the Republican response?

Former GOP Senator Alan Simpson, Republican co-chair of the President's bi-partisan Federal Debt Commission, chortles, "I can't wait for the blood bath in April" when the Federal government's deficit spending inevitably hits the legislated limit on federal debt?

He "can't wait"? Even on his gold-plated Senatorial pension? What about the poor slob trying to find a replacement gig on $300 week for the manufacturing or back-end clerical job that got outsourced to China, Mexico or India by Shrub's cronies?

The GOPpers won't even move to help small businesses if the mega-rich don't get to continue paying less income tax than they did when the federal budget was last balanced - balanced under the nearly-impeached-by-the-GOP-fanatics, Bill Clinton.

President Clinton balanced the budget, even as the GOP went nuclear under Newt 'Gin-Grinch' and shut down the federal government - a move the Republican congressional majority-to-be-inaugurated has promised not to repeat. Yet, Mr. Simpson "can't wait for the bloodbath" that appears to be all but inevitable when the government hits the debt wall head-on. Never mind what is going on in Mr. Simpson's seemingly Seussian-heart (which is likely "two sizes too small"). What's going on in his head?

Notes the NYT's Paul Krugman:
"Now, you might think that the prospect of this kind of standoff, which might deny many Americans essential services, wreak havoc in financial markets and undermine America’s role in the world, would worry all men of good will. But no, Mr. Simpson “can’t wait.” And he’s what passes, these days, for a reasonable Republican."
What's that I hear echoing over the political landscape? "Smithers . . . Loose the hounds!"

Chortle, Chortle, Chortle . . . Gasp, Gasp . . . Choke . . . Gasp, Gasp . . . Choke . . . Gasp, Gasp . . . Croak. . . .

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dysfunctional Banks - The Optics Look Bad

You can't open the paper without reams of articles on the further meltdown of our banking system.  Now, 'Foreclosure-Gate' soaks up ink, like Goldman-Sach's investment bankers soaked up bonuses predicated on selling lousy securities made up of lousy mortgages to unsuspecting institutional investors who were duped by compliant ratings services.  Moody's really set the mood!

Of course, the optics of the whole deal look bad . . . but not as bad as this analyst's webcast talking to an outside expert who looks like he's simulcasting from county lockup! Check it out. . . .

Does this guy not look like he's wearing a prison jump suit? With the orange suit and the do-it-yourself haircut he looks like he's on a video remand hearing, rather than offering financial insight. I gotta shake my head.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dysfunctional Corporate Politics - Starbucks Bans Multi-Tasking

It's ugly out there, folks . . . and bound to get uglier, as Starbucks introduces new employee rules that are bound to lengthen your morning wait for a low-fat-mocha-caramel-vanilla-cappacino-americano, with a double-shot of expresso grande (or whatever floats your morning boat). News flash! It's a frickin' cup of coffee, for Pete's sake! Get over yourself. Particularly, you funky t-shirt, chino-wearing coffee "suits" in Seattle!

As was best said by Tom Hank's character in my favorite 1998 comedy-romancy/chick-flick, You've Got Mail:

"The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don't know what the hell they're doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self . . ."
 According to one source, Starbucks' "list of bizarre new edicts" are strangely  (and, quite frankly, Orwellian-ly) specific, including rules requiring employees to stand in one place, instead of scurrying around and (gasp!) multi-tasking.

The Wall Street Journal is reported to have got hold of the new Starbucks rules (which make McDonald's 'Clean, Don't Lean' policy, look liberally wimpy) that instruct their baristas to:

  • Steam milk for each individual drink (instead of steaming an entire pitcher for multiple coffees)
  • Rinse a pitcher every time it gets used
  • Stand still at the espresso bar rather than moving around the counter
  • Only use one espresso machine - not two.
  • Heaven forbid that a twenty-something counterperson working his or her way through college by slinging joe (yes, its just coffee) should attempt the never-tried-before art of "multi-tasking".

    I can just see a scrum of impatient and surly, caffeine-deprived java junkies jonesing for their morning Starbucks hit. Lord help the poor schmuck who can't speak Starbuckian, or comprehend with an unstimulated brain why on earth a small coffee is, in fact, now a 'tall' coffee in this brave new world of corporate chic.

    This whole item seems like Starbucks is taking a page from Coca-Cola's 'New Coke' strategy. (Hint: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!")

    I can only shake my head . . . and head for the exits.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Paladino Smugly Anti-Gay, Yet a Misogynist Who Distributed Bestiality Porn

    Can you get more dysfunctional than Carl Paladino, the Tea Party candidate that captured the Republican nomination for governor of New York?

    First, Paladino was outed for the racist and misogynist e-mails he shared around with his "friends" - purportedly, according to TPM, one e-mail which "shows a video of an African tribal dance, entitled "Obama Inauguration Rehearsal," while another depicts hardcore bestiality."

    Hard-core bestiality? How whacked is it that Paladino (who excused himself by saying he was in the construction business), can seriously be considered for high office when he distributes born purportedly showing a woman engaged in sex with a horse? Could any woman forgive and forget such disgusting behavior by the gubernatorial candidate?

    And, now, he is all over the airwaves and internet with his anti-gay views . . .

    What other description, other than purely dysfunctional, is there for a political candidate who has demonstrated by his words and actions that he is anti-gay, yet apparently pro-bestialty? He's probably pro-life and for the death penalty as well.


    I can only shake my head when I think that anyone would vote for this kook.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Functional/Apolitical: John Lennnon's 70th Birthday

    John Lennon
    October 9, 1940 - December 8, 190

    In a tribute to John Lennon, born seventy years ago today, here are two of his classics. The first, Imagine, Lennon's classic anthem of peace and idealism, was written after the Beatles breakup, and while the Vietnam War tragically dragged along during the Nixon administration.  The second, Come Together, was ostensibly written as a theme song for Jerry Brown's campaign for California Governor. (How ironic life can be! Thirty-five odd years later, Brown is again running for California Governor, and the idealism of the Boomer generation lies in tatters.)

    Thanks to Google for recognizing Lennon's birthday in their ever changing logo that recognizes the signifigance of  the days as they pass.

    Rest in Peace.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    The Nation Outs Former CNN Host: Lou Dobbs American Hypocrite

    Ha! Ha! Ha!

    Hoist the pompous ass, Lou Dobbs, on his own pitard! The former CNN blowhard famous for ranting against our broken borders, illegal workers, and the employers that employ illegals stands accused in the court of public opinion of hiring illegal workers . . . not to nanny his little ones, or clean his home.  Lou Dobbs reportedly hired illegal aliens to look after his prize equistrian horses and hired a landscaping company to work on his Florida mansion.
    The news of Dobb's blatant hypocrisy was first brought to light in an expose written for The Nation magazine.

    Lou claims no knowledge of illegal workers working on his Florida and Connecticut estates . But seriously . . .  Lou looks out his front window and sees a bunch of hispanic mexican and guatemalan grooming the grounds of his very lush estate, or cleaning the barns for his prized horses, and he never asked himself if all these workers were here legally in the U.S.

    Poor Lou called himself a victim of the left wing media (ha ha ha!). He didn't directly, or indirectly, ever employ an illegal worker. I didn't know, how could I know seemed to be the jist of his lame defence on his appearnce on "The Final Say with Dan O'Neil" on MSNBC.

    I shake my head, I blow razzberries at the talking heads, and  I laugh at the arrogance of such a phony, self-righteous, and self promoting hypocrite.  He should have been in his own stable shovelling out the manure, instead of  foisting it out so shamelessly on a news audience that looked up to this schmuck.

    Ha! Ha! Ha! Lou Dobbs. Methinks thou protests too much, Lou!

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Boenher Plays Santa Claus for Tobacco Lobbyists

    Characterizing GOP House Minorty Leader (and wannabe House Speaker), John Boehner, as "one of the especially sleazy figures in a capital seething with sleaze," New York Times columnist, Bob Herbert paints a pretty picture of Boehner's largesse towards fellow Republicans, a largesse that undoubtedly gained Boehner his current influence and position.

    "I remember writing about that day back in the mid-’90s," Herbert recalls, "when this slick, chain-smoking, quintessential influence-peddler decided to play Santa Claus by handing out checks from tobacco lobbyists to fellow Congressional sleazes right on the floor of the House."

    Is it just me, or does anyone else see the resemblance? Shifty eyes, weird complexion, cat-that-ate-the-canary grin?

    "It was incredible," Herbert recalls, "even to some Republicans. The House was in session, and here was a congressman actually distributing money on the floor."

    Checking with Boehner's office, his then-staffers unabashedly confirmed to Herbert that the checks the jolly Boehner was so merrily spreading around were, in fact, contributions "from tobacco P.A.C.’s.”

    When Herbert asked the staffer why Boehner was so blatantly handing out checks from the tobacco lobbyists on the House floor (a practice that is now, belatedly, illegal), the staffer reportedly replied, "The floor is where the members meet with each other.”


    I can only shake my head. Yet, at the same time, I wonder if it were mandatory that all lobbyist checks be handed out live on C-Span, if Boehner's then practice would not go along way towards the ephemeral goal of "transparency" so blithely touted by Republicans and Democrats alike.

    Obama Shows Comic Chops in Presidential Seal Fail

    Say what you like about Obama, but whether you think he's a "transitional president" (as many chest-thumping Democrats still do), or that he's a Kenyan anti-colonialist, Manchurian-candidate (Newt Gingrich), the man has a sense of humour.

    Check out his response (below) when the Presidential Seal falls off the podium.  What gets me is how he quickly figures out that some political intern hack behind the curtains is probably cringing.  As a former summer student in a blue-chip law firm, I've been a minion just waiting for the partner's shoe to drop, as was Obama, I presume. (Although you have to admit that he was pretty brash in picking up, and eventually marrying, his associate lawyer mentor, Michelle.)

    I gotta say he's pretty quick on the uptake.  Must come from all those rickety podiums in rundown gymnasiums he used when he was, "palling around with terrorists" as . . . gasp. . .  a "community organizer"!

    You have to respect the man's chops.  I'd give him a wry grin, and a sincere nod of approval for his comic timing. You can't make this stuff up!

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Which Witch is Which? Ms. O'Donnell???

    The latest in the unravelling yarn of Deleware senator want-to-be, Christine O'Donnell, is her commercial (below) where she declares, "I am not a witch.. . .  I'm You."

    Let me get this straight.  She's not a witch.  She's me?  I'm her?  It begs the same old question: "Which witch is which?"

    Are you shaking your head in disbelief yet? Or are you busy reassuring your six-year old that there is no such things as witches.  Wait until next week when, courtesy to the mad woman of Delaware, you could find yourself having to explain masturbation to little kids who have (and should not necessarily have) any ideas of what you're talking about.

    Which brings us back to Ms. O'Donnell.  Her whacked-out views on everything from sex (anti-gay, anti-choice and anti-masturbation), to stem cell research (Scientists have made mice, she claims "with fully functioning human brains.")

    What can we expect next as Ms. O'Donnell plays defence to the clearly cracked things she said on Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect." Maher has kept good on his promise to release a new O'Donell clip every week, until Ms. O'Donnell agrees to a reprise appearance on his new show, "Real Time with Bill Maher."

    Ms. O'Donnell agree to appear! You are slowly dying politically from the death of a thousand quips.

    Ms. O'Donnell, in the latest release by Bill Maher, says that besides dabbling in witchcraft, she also dabbled in Buddhism, and even the Hare Krishna movement before adopting a strict, and it seems particularly exclusive, brand of Christianity.  "I couldn't join the Hare Krishna," Ms. O'Donnell proclaimed. "They are vegetarians, and as an Italian American, I like my meatballs."

    Apparently Ms. O'Donnell obviously didn't dabble very deeply in so-called alternative religions, or she would have known there is a Buddhist stricture favoring vegetarianism. The first of five buddhist tenets (close in substance to the evils addressed in the Mosaic code) advise adherents to embrace vegetariaism in order to refrain from killing (including all sentient beings, all though the question of whether this stricuture applies to mutant mice with fully functioning human brains is not clear).  The other four tenets are to refrain from taking what is not yours, (itself,,perhaps, an impediment to higher office); to refrain from harsh or harmful speech, (another natural bar to politics it would seem); to refrain from sexual impropriety (where, perhaps Ms. O'Donnell gained her loathing of self pleasuring); and to refrain from taking mind-altering intoxicants.

    One has to wonder what intoxicants Ms. O'Donnell is taking, or has taken, as she certainly is drunken with a lust (dare I say it) to be seen as a real, grownup, serious adlt politician.

    Personally, I'm waiting for O'Donnell's spin campaign ad to show that she is not as whacked out on sexual issues as her anti-masturbation views imply..  I can just vision it.  Straightforwad and smiling, Ms. O'Donnell smiles her perky smile into the bedrooms of America declaring, "I'm not against masturbation. In fact,  I'm You."

    Of course, that will only happen if poles (er, polls) all across Delaware show continuing signs of softening.  Clearly, if this happens, Ms. O'Donnell, will have at least enjoyed, one presumes, her two minutes of fame, or infamy.

    I'm shaking my head over this clearly dysfunctional politician, although others may describe it as banging my head against the wall.  If only I could become truly dim in this manner, I, too, would seem to be fit for higher office.

    Seriously? "The Donald" for President? Eeyikes!!!

    Donald Trump for President??? Seriously? Surely we are all living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

    Talk about dysfunctional politics.  Is this the death knell of all commonsense in the political discourse? What about the practicalities of a "Trump for President" campaign? How would "The Donald" select a vice-presidential candidate?  Are we to see the ultimate reality show? I can just see the V.P. being selected "Apprentice" style by voter call-ins. "Text 8667 for Sarah Palin, or 8668 for Justin Bieber."

    (Of course, that may be a better method than the vetting process used by John McCain in the last presidential sweepstakes.  The old codger was willing to put anyone a heartbeat away from the presidency, if only he could win the ultimate political prize.  Unsurprising blind ambition, from a washout of a well-connected Naval Academy midshipman desperately trying to live up to the legacy of a father and grandfather who were both Navy Admirals.)

    Reuters reports that Trump, declaring himself a Republican, dipped his toe into the wacky world of GOP politics in a whirlwind of Sunday morning interviews.  "For the first time in my life," he told Fox News, "I'm actually thinking about it (running for president)."  Lord, help us all!

    Yeah, right . . . The ego-maniacal Trump just woke up one day last week and thought, "Hey! I could do that." Yet, again, with the current slate of potential GOP candidates, why not? At least "The Donald" doesn't claim to be able to see Russia from the top of Trump Towers. Yet, Trump also apparently left open the option that he would run as a Tea Party candidate.  Talk about a grassroots movement. . . .

    Reuters describes the thrice-married real estate mogul (and reality TV star) as "a larger-than-life figure in the United States, whose company operates a string of resorts and casinos."

    What the heck, with Republicans, Democrats and the financial gurus of the Obama administration all handling the casino-operators at Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan etc., with kid gloves, why not elect a president with experience running a casino?

    I can only shake my head, and stifle an expression somewhere between mirthful laughter and a groan.

    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    GOP Candidate: Scientists Clone "Mice with Fully-Functioning Human Brains"

    At what point does dysfunctional politics cross the line and become a parody of the real thing?

    Perhaps, we reached that point last week when comedian Bill Maher effectively blackmailed Delaware GOP Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell, by threatening to release old clips of O'Donnell advocating any number of whacked out positions on his 90's show "Politically Incorrect" until she agrees to a reprise visit to his current HBO show, "Real Time with Bill Maher".

    Last week, to underlie his threat, Maher released a clip of O'Donnell - who comes off as a "born-again" Roman Catholic, advocating the contentious positions espoused by the most radically-right wing Christian evangelists in the Bible Belt (imagine Jerry Falwell in lipstick and heels) - vociferously warning against the influence of Satanism, and admitting that she herself had dabbled in witchcraft.

    And that isn't even the weirdest of her too-public dysfunctional campaigns for a better America.  In 1996, she waged a campaign on MTV against masturbation.  Against masturbation??? You can only shake your head. . . . Statistically speaking, masturbation is far more American than singing the Stars and Stripes, or even eating apple pie.

    This week Bill Maher following through on his campaign of political blackmail. Maher treated us to a clip of Ms. O'Donnell disputing evolution, calling the theory underpinning all of modern biology, "a myth,." Her argument? If evolution isn't a myth, "why aren't monkeys still evolving into human beings?"

    Seriously, folks. . . How can you believe in witchcraft and call evolution a "myth?"

    Pre-empting Maher,online muckrakers Talking Points Memo compiled their own video of Ms. O'Donnell's finest, dysfunctional moments, including a bizarre claim that scientists have cloned "mice with fully-functioning human brains."

    Marshall McLuhan was right, Ms. O'Donnell clearly makes the point that the medium has become the message in this era of dysfunctional politics, and that she will say anything to get herself in the public eye. All of this would be relatively harmless, although still humorous, of course, if the perennially perky Ms.O'Donnell hadn't blazed a path for whacked-out media mavens that actually have a chance of getting elected to high office.

    Check out the infamous clip of Sarah Palin receiving a blessing against withcraft (seriously, witchcraft) at her Wasilla, Alaska church. Lord, help us all. . . .

    Saturday, September 25, 2010

    Watching Obama like Watching a Motorcycle Racer Caught in a Speed Wobble

    Watching the way President Obama's White House handlers - and, indeed, the President himself - are attempting to come to simultaneous terms with the GOP's outright refusal to play ball with him, and with progressive Democratics increasingly turning away from him in disillusionment; it is like watching a motorcycle racer caught in a speed wobble: You have to half turn away, close one eye, and grimace, because he may not be able to regain control of a powerful machine that could very well end up spread all over the track.

    Will a "speed wobble" put him out of the race?

    Or, will he be nimble enough able to overcome a "disastrous" race in November?

    It's breathtaking to see how a president elected with such a groundswell of high hopes could have wasted that goodwill so quickly!

    In a review of Bob Woodward's recently released first book on the Obama administration, Obama's War, the United Kingdom's respected Telegraph newspaper, notes that President Obama "has even lost Shepard Fairey, the man who created the iconic red and blue 'Hope' poster of Obama's visage." Those who elected Obama feel cheated, the graphic artist said this week. "They wanted somebody who was going to fight against the status quo and I don't think that Obama has done that."

    To paraphrase Winston Churchill: "Never have so many, turned on so few, so quickly."

    All this in the same week when the self-promoted "brains" of the Republican Party, Newt "the Newt" Gingrich, crawled out from under his rotted log to whip the Tea Partiers and Birthers into a lather with some cock-and-bull "theory" that the only way to understand Obama is to understand that Obama's supposed ideological view is that of an anti-colonial Kenyan tribal leader of the 1950's.

    . . . . Say what, Lewis?

    I can only shake my head, with a dread in veins turned cold by four short words: Sarah Palin in '012! . . . .  . . . . . Now . . . If that doesn't make your skin crawl . . . . its on too tight!

    . . . . And motorcycle and rider wobble . . .he slides . . . . Can he pick himself up and get back in the race? . .

    . . . You Bet'cha!   ;-)

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Colbert Testifies Before Clearly Dysfunctional Congress Sub-Commitee

    You gotta know its getting really dysfunctional out there when Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert (from the news mock-mentary, Colbert Report) gets to testify - in character - to a House Sub-Committee on Immigration, Security etc., etc., etc.

    Hilarious!!! Gotta love it!!! How did he get that gig? One can only shake one's head!

    . . . But, its not quite as dysfunctional as my three favorite videos of clearly dysfunctional politicans working out there bipartisan differences with fisticuffs, hair-pulling and shoe-throwing. . . . No, not that shoe-throwing incident (although W.'s greatest moment is included as bonus footage).

    Politicians Work Out Bipartisan Differences . . . With Fisticuffs

    As promised, here are my three favorite videos of dysfunctional politicians working out their differences in a bipartisan fashion - complete with fisticuffs, hair-pulling, what looks like an eye-gouge, and a shoe-throwing incident. . . . Not that shoe-throwing incident . . . but I do include George W. Shrub's finest moment as POTUS as bonus footage.

    Third Place - Politicos in India take it to the house - or the floor of their House - arming themselves with microphones as spear and club in a bi-partisan effort to work out their differences.

    The kicker to that one is: They were debating 'Civil Rights' for Pete's sake!!!

    So much for civil discourse. . .

    Second Place - Heavyweight politicos in the Ukraine utilize the bully pulpit . . . . literally.

    Fisticuffs, hair-pulling and I thought I saw an eye gouge in that bipartisan brouhaha. . . . And fade to Windows. . . But the gold medal goes to the following:

    First Place - Mayhem in Taiwan's House of Congress is sparked by a shoe-throwing incident reminiscent of W.'s chuck-and-duck moment in Iraq.  I admit, I thought shoe-throwing was a sign of disrespect in the Middle East, not the Far East. (???) Oh well, a nice shot that earns two thumbs-up and a nod of approval.

    BONUS CLIP - Here's Dubya in his finest moment of jocularity (or jock-ularity). At least he looked like an athlete in the infamous shoe-chucking incident that got the reporter six months in Abu Ghrab (or some other Iraqi hoosegow).

    Ya' gotta miss the big, dysfunctional lug!

    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    Two Ways of Dealing with the Tea Partiers

    Kudos to the New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer and Kate Zernike for their complimentary takes on how the Democrats and G.O.P., respectively, should deal with the Tea Partiers. Both drew a muted chortle and a good shake of the head.

    From the Democratic standpoint, Ms.Steinhauer writes that dealing with the would-be revolutionaries " is analogous to a family fracas over how to best get rid of your sister’s latest crummy boyfriend." Meanwhile, Ms. Zernike observes that the Republicans are unsure whether "you have to take a stand against masturbation or urge your supporters to gather their bayonets." Thank you, oh thank you, Christine O'Donnell, Sharon Angle and Sarah Palin!

    "Do you repeatedly point out all the perceived flaws of the new suitor, hoping that they resonate?" asks Ms. Steinhauer, "Or do you insist that the new guy is just like the ex, and suggest that repeating the pattern will only lead to misery?" "The trick is to take advantage of the Tea Party passion and stay away from its extremes," writes Ms. Zernike. Yeah . . . Good luck on that one! That's like telling a bratty Eskimo kid to go stand in the corner of the igloo. The Tea Party is an extreme. Doh!!!

    . . . . and on the Left Coast . . .  MSNBC reports a poll showing spaced-out, hash-brownied 70's California governor, Jerry Brown, in a dead heat with terminated, gazillionaire ex-Hewlitt Packard, Silicon-Valley CEO Meg Whittman, to replace the Terminator.

    ROTFLMAO (and shaking my head)! . . . And all this over a mid-afternoon coffee. . . .Only in the new 21st-century America!

    Have the Republicans Flipped Their Wigs . . . er, Whigs???

    I do not know whether to call the Republicans just released "Pledge to America" a mimicry or an unintended mockery of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  Either way, its clear that collectively the House G.O.P's (Grand Old Partiers!) have flipped their wigs (or, perhaps, Whigs?) in condescendingly kowtowing to a party base mainly created by the political media.

    Wrapping its essentially empty and rhetorical "Pledge to America" in constitutional, federalist terms, they take liberties in equating within the same introductory paragraph the "unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" with what seems to be (in light of the paper's following vacuous generalities) an almost unfettered "economic, political, and religious liberty."

    Reading this tripe, one would assume that the country's founding revolution was sparked by "taxation" itself - rather than "taxation without representation." One would think that America is the fiefdom of an autocratic foreign power, rather than a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

    Blithely dismissing the executive branch as "unchecked", the legislative branch as "compliant", and the judicial branch as "overreaching", the Republican's "Pledge" demonizes the very concept of government, as if neither they themselves, nor the electorate had, (or has) any role in electing the Administration and Congress, the Senate of which, in turn, nominates, ratifies and appoints the Judiciary.

    In fact, this clearly over-the-edge "Pledge" seems to challenge the legitimacy of the entire government (all three branches), and tries to perpetuate an idea that the composition of the Congress and the Obama Administration is not the result of the fair and free elections (in times of peace and war) that have characterized the United States since its founding.

    The Republican p.r. hacks who undoubtedly authored this mish-mash of a mess, mischaracterize their government as a "government of self-appointed elites [that] makes decisions, issues mandates and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many."

    What??? Self-appointed elites enact laws in the United States of America???  I thought there was an election coming up . . .  but I guess there has been a takeover by a Harvard-Law academic, or Wall Street financial junta instead.  I ask: Have the House G.O.P.'s finally flipped their wigs . . . .er, Whigs???

    One can only sadly shake one's head, or recoil like the rattlesnake on the American Revolution's seemingly hijacked "Don't Tread on Me!" banner.

    What Ever Happened to the Rockefellers?

    Forbes magazine recently released its list of America's richest persons - a list which includes four billionaire heirs of Walmart-founder, Sam Walton, amongst the country's ten richest citizens.  Collectively, the Walmart heirs are richer than either investment guru, Warren Buffett, and Microsoft founder, Bll Gates.

    Commenting on the Forbes' list, MSNBC's Chuck Todd noted that the heirs to the Rockefeller fortune, perennially amongst the nation's richest persons a generation ago, have now been replaced by the Walmart billionaires. With the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs overseas having decimated Detroit, Youngstown, Buffalo, the mill-towns of New England and much of the Mid-West "Rust Belt" that was once the engine of American productivity, how ironic is it that the heirs of a discount retailer have replaced the Rockefellers, Fords, Mellons and DuPonts whose fortunes were found on producing goods, rather than selling them?

    Here are the richest ten Americans, as named by Forbes:
    1. Bill Gates - Microsoft co-founder (philanthropist financier of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)
    2. Warren Buffett - investment guru, Berkshire-Hathaway chairman (and Gates Foundation contributor)
    3. Larry Ellison - founder of Oracle, which just bought Sun Microsystems
    4. Christy Walton - Walmart heir
    5. Charles Koch - part-owner of the privately-held Koch industries conglomerate
    6. David Koch - part-owner of the privately-held Koch industries conglomerate
    7. Jim Walton - Walmart heir
    8. Alice Walton - Walmart heir
    9. Robson Walton - Walmart heir
    10. Michael Bloomberg -founder of Bloomberg News, NYC mayor (and possible presidential aspirant)
    Of these richest American's, it is readily arguable that only Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Oracle's Larry Ellison are 'producers' (albeit that Mr. Bloomberg's financial news conglomerate does produce aggregations of information). Mr. Buffet - the "Sage of Omaha" - and the Koch brothers (chief financiers of a number of Tea Party and right-wing attack groups set loose by the Citizens United decision, see below) are primarily investors, not 'builders' or 'producers', while the Walmart heirs are, essentially, storekeepers.

    Gone are the days of Henry Ford, whose then radical wage hikes enabled his American workers to afford the cars they produced, and Andrew Carnegie, whose steel foundries funded public libraries throughout North America.  While both these autocratic business titans clashed violently with their unionizing workers (exhibiting an anti-union animus shared by Walmart and the Kochs), they remained committed to producing goods in America, for consumption in America, and for export to the rest of the world. The Walton fortunes, on the other hand, have been founded on the importation of cheap foreign-produced goods for consumption in America - an importation made possible by the exportation of American manufacturing jobs overseas.

    Yet Walmart stores thrive across the United States, even in the factory-shuttered towns and cities of New England and the Mid-West - communities which once produced the same foreign-made clothes and goods that now line the shelves of Walmart, and the pockets of Sam Walton's heirs.

    * * * * * * * * * * *

    A recent article in The New Yorker had the following to say about the Koch brothers' largely clandestine political operations: 
    "The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups."