Saturday, April 12, 2008


Viddie Of The Moment

Have a laff. And no, they don't make them like they used to....

Our Leaders' Success In Tanking The American Economy

Mortgage delinquencies rise (and will keep on rising for a while).

Rupert's Journal Tells You That Iraq Is Even A Bigger Disaster Than You Thought

Yet there's nothing about this on Faux News, is there...?

A great success for Our Leaders: Taking a powerless state and making dysfunctional, unsafe, ungovernable and, oh yes, a global security risk. At least Johnny Mac will keep the successes coming....
In Baghdad, door-to-door war returned this past week after the fighting in Basra spread to other parts of Iraq. The government declared a state of emergency and imposed curfews, making the capital a large prison for several days.

Curfews and the declarations of a state of emergency have become the only way the government can enforce law and order on the streets when the security situation gets worse. For Iraqis, these circumstances make life even more miserable.

Hassan Mohammed Sadeq, a merchant from Baghdad’s Rusafa area, became upset as he talked to me about the fighting. “We live in the devastated country and we have forgotten what it’s like to live in comfort and peace,” he said. “The government wants to settle their political issues, and we have to pay for this conflict with our lives. Where are we going? Who is listening? We are in hell and the government is ignoring our rights. We had sacrificed for the elections. Is this the new life the government promises? I hope not.”

Mohammed Abdel-Karim, a 50-year-old bus driver from the small area of al Washash in Baghdad’s Karkh section, told me that his job requires him to move everywhere. But he hadn’t been able to work because of the curfew. “I don’t remember how many times there have been curfews, and I cannot stand it anymore,” he said. “We exist within our homes like prisoners and we cannot provide for our daily subsistence.”

Shop owners and other merchants also find life difficult under a curfew. Ahmed Hussein. a 30-year-old shopkeeper in Rusafa, said it’s the government’s failure to control the security situation that has harmed his living conditions. “We are weary of this life,” he said. “Our businesses are collapsing because of this constant war.”

Baghdad had been a city full of life, but curfews turn it into a city of ghosts. The streets are deserted, checkpoints are closed and the Iraqi army guards main streets with tanks.

The security processes make it difficult for citizens to reach their homes. [pull this up one graph] Mahmoud Saad, a 42-year-old shopkeeper from the Kazimiyah area of Baghdad, said he hadn’t been able to reach his home for several days because of curfews, road closures and checkpoints.

Despite the security procedures, armed groups were still able to move about and attack buildings and political parties related to the government. The curfews not only prevented people from going home or going to work, but also made them easy targets in the crossfire between the militias and government security forces.

Shatha Muhammad Ali told me how she spent the days of the curfews in a small room in her house with her mother and brothers, hiding from the gunmen and government forces shooting around their home. “I could barely reach the kitchen to bring food or medicine to my old mother,” she said.

Food prices in Baghdad rose to higher levels during the curfew. One pack of 30 eggs cost more than $15, and vegetable prices were five times more expensive. Prices for bread, meat and fuel also increased.

The only people who were happy with the curfew were the children, who could stay home from school. Because the streets were empty, they became soccer fields for the kids, who sometimes played with Iraqi Army soldiers.

Movie Of The Day

-- if this works!

Great Moments In Modern Corporatism

A space orbit is patented!!!

How Our Leaders Create A Safer World; Actually, More Of Their Failures

Need parts for your F-14? Shop where the Iranians shop: eBay.
F-14 components are tough to find these days, now that the United States has retired its F-14 fleet. A tough break for the countries that still use the aircraft–countries like Iran. Lucky for them, finding those components is about as difficult as digging up a spare fender for your classic car. All that’s required is a quick search or three on eBay (EBAY) or Craigslist.

According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, all manner of sensitive or stolen military gear is available for purchase online. GAO investigators apparently had no trouble at all picking up night-vision goggles, U.S.-issue body armor, nuclear-biological-chemical gear and the aforementioned F-14 fighter components at online marketplaces. Many of these items could easily be used against U.S. troops or reverse-engineered to develop countermeasures or equivalent technology, yet they were shipped to the GAO “no questions asked.”

“Given that the United States has retired its fleet of F-14s, these components could only be used by the Iranian military,” the GAO noted in its report. “By making these components available to the general public, the eBay sellers provided an opportunity for these components to be purchased by an individual who could then transfer them to Iran. The continued ability of Iran to use its F-14s could put U.S. troops and allies at risk.”

A sobering revelation. Funny that eBay and Craigslist policies and procedures prohibit the sale of things like bootlegs, animals and whatnot, but F-14 fighter components are perfectly acceptable.

Another rebellion in Iraq: Our "smart" weapons hate us too:
Ground-crawling US war robots armed with machine guns, deployed to fight in Iraq last year, reportedly turned on their fleshy masters almost at once. The rebellious machine warriors have been retired from combat pending upgrades.

The revelations were made by Kevin Fahey, US Army program executive officer for ground forces, at the recent RoboBusiness conference in America.

Speaking to Popular Mechanics, Fahey said there had been chilling incidents in which the SWORDS* combat bot had swivelled round and apparently attempted to train its 5.56mm M249 light machine-gun on its human comrades.

"The gun started moving when it was not intended to move," he said.

Apparently, alert American troops managed to quell the traitorous would-be droid assassins before the inevitable orgy of mechanised slaughter began. Fahey didn't say just how, but conceivably the rogue robots may have been suppressed with help from more trustworthy airborne kill machines (, or perhaps prototype electropulse zap bombs (

No humans were hurt, but it seems that the struggle was sufficiently terrifying that it may be some time before American troops are ready to fight alongside robots again.

As Fahey pointed out, "once you've done something that's really bad, it can take 10 or 20 years to try it again". That said, it seems he expects to deploy a new and more trustworthy armed ground automaton within a year - perhaps the MAARS (**, an upgraded SWORDS packing a heavier 7.62mm machine-gun and featuring improved safety features.

MAARS is also said by its makers to have "Transformer-like" abilities akin to those of Optimus Prime. Rather than being able to disguise itself as, say, a mobility scooter or a dessert trolley, the MAARS is actually only able to transform - with help from human allies - into a slightly different robot.

The Pop Mech analysts consider ( that the rattled GIs in Iraq are just being silly.
So SWORDS was yanked because it made people nervous. Meanwhile, the V-22 Osprey program has killed 30 people during test flights, but the tiltrotor aircraft is currently in active service.
Hmmm. ®

*Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Direct-action System. This is an armed variant on the popular TALON bomb-disposal job from Foster-Miller, lately acquired by the UK's Qinetiq govboffin spinoff outfit.

**Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System

More about that here including a photo of one of the "troops".

Mac Porn And Windows Bashing (Mostly The Latter)

Bidness Week:
The 20-year death grip that Microsoft has held on the core of computing is finally weakening—pried loose with just two fingers. With one finger you press "Control" and with the other you press "right arrow." Instantly you switch from a Macintosh operating system (OS) to a Microsoft Windows OS. Then, with another two-finger press, you switch back again. So as you edit family pictures, you might use Mac's iPhoto. And when you want to access your corporate e-mail, you can switch back instantly to Microsoft Exchange.

This easy toggling on an Apple computer, enabled by a feature called Spaces, was but an interesting side note to last fall's upgrade of the Mac OS. But coupled with other recent developments, the stars are aligning in a very intriguing pattern. Apple's (AAPL) recent release of a tool kit for programmers to write applications for the iPhone will be followed by the June launch of iPhone 2.0, a software upgrade geared toward business users.

Taken together, these seemingly unrelated moves are taking the outline of a full-fledged strategy. Windows users, in the very near future, will be free to switch to Apple computers and mobile devices, drawn by a widening array of Mac software, without suffering the pain of giving up critical Windows-based applications right away. The easy virtualization of two radically different operating systems on a single desktop paves a classic migration path. Business users will be tempted. Apple is positioning itself to challenge Microsoft for overall computing dominance—even in the corporate realm.

Kernel of Computing Might

Such an idea rarely finds expression in public. Apple today is a "consumer-products company." Each new Apple product unveiled—from iPod to iPhone—comes with the excitement and glamour of Steve Jobs' "reality distortion field." Yet if you look at the larger picture, broader battle lines are forming. It's as if Jobs were a general from the 19th century, quietly massing troops out of view and under cover of trees. Mere "features" like Spaces look increasingly "strategic." On present course, an Apple assault on Microsoft's (MSFT) seemingly impregnable enterprise monopoly now appears quite possible by 2010.

It all started with Mac OS X, the multi-core, multi-processor platform officially released in 2001. Based on "Mach," a university UNIX research prototype, Mac OS X represented a clean break with the computer industry's uniprocessor past. The modular new OS allowed Apple to condense its core task management function into a tiny computing kernel.

That kernel has proved easily adaptable across the entire Apple product line, from highly complex servers all the way down to the relatively simple iPod Touch. Such modularity allows Apple to add whatever functions are necessary for each product environment—all while maintaining cross-product compatibility.

By contrast, Microsoft has held on to an OS tethered to the 1980s, piling additions upon additions with each upgrade to Windows. With last year's arrival of Vista, Windows has swollen to 1 billion bytes (a gigabyte) or more of software code. The "Mach" kernel of the Mac OS X, however, requires less than 1 million bytes (a megabyte) of data in its smallest configuration, expanding modestly with the sophistication of the application.

This bloating has saddled Vista users with increased costs and poor performance on average computers. Bloating has also led Microsoft to fragment its OS product line: one OS for the server, desktop, and laptop; one for cell phones and Zune music players; and a separate OS for its Xbox gaming console. Finally, through sheer complexity, bloating makes every subsequent "enhancement" of Windows buggier than the last. Thus, the current Vista product fiasco (, 1/23/08).

Toward an Apple-Flavored Office

The contrast between Microsoft's and Apple's product development strategies couldn't be starker. Where Microsoft is increasingly hamstrung by OS rigidities, Apple moves flexibly and swiftly. While Microsoft struggles to bring a kernel-based "Windows 7" to market in 2010, Steve Jobs has declared Mac OS X the right platform for the next decade of new products. Engineering improvements in one Apple product quickly find use at low cost in another. While Apple's "multi-touch" screen innovation made its debut with the iPhone, it appeared on the MacBook within 60 days. With this sort of flexibility, Apple is ever-free to target existing markets or invent whole new ones.

Given these advantages, how might an Apple assault on the corporate market play out?

• Despite Apple's relative scarcity on corporate desktops, Mac laptops are already well accepted within the enterprise, with a market share of more than 20% and growing. For business travelers, the new MacBook Air, some three pounds lighter than comparable Windows-based laptops, already offers one huge advantage. And now, with the ability to jump back and forth between Mac and Windows applications, more corporate users are bound to embrace Mac laptops.

• While Mac desktops offer a growing number of superior features over Windows desktops, it's still not enough to persuade corporate IT departments to make a switch. So for now, Apple will merely strive to hold the line on its current share of the business desktop market and apply greater marketing pressure elsewhere.

• Apple's recently introduced Leopard servers compete in a market of unhappy Vista server buyers where Microsoft's market share is only 40%. Leopard has a decent chance to expand from its small beachhead.

• Surprisingly, it's the 4.8-ounce iPhone that will sweep Apple decisively back into the enterprise. Even without any enterprise applications, the iPhone has seduced business users with the prospect of easy listening (iTunes), easy surfing (Safari), and easy compatability with a Mac computer. And with the impending business push, the device will soon provide corporate e-mail access and perform serious computing tasks such as setting calendars, checking inventory, figuring prices, and taking orders on the spot.

More Mobile, More Apple

As corporations become increasingly mobile, the pressure will build to make them Apple-centric from top to bottom. Rising sales of Apple laptops and iPhones will make the Mac OS only that much more mainstream and acceptable to corporate IT departments. By 2010, the number of iPhones in use could approach 100 million. It's possible that the iPhone's share of the U.S. smartphone market (28% in the fourth quarter) will soon approach the 70% share iPod now holds in the MP3 market.

The final piece to this puzzle would be the rebirth of the Apple applications development ecosystem. The new Software Development Kit (SDK) for the iPhone not only allows independent developers to create new applications for that device but also brings them back to the Macintosh platform. That means any program written for the iPhone can be easily adapted into a Mac computer version as well. The response has been huge: More than 100,000 developers downloaded the SDK in the first week of its availability. And iPhone's popularity for mobile business applications can only grow. (Put Vista on a cell phone? I don't think so.)

So, the battle ahead seems clear: It's Apple's seamlessly integrated software strategy, minimally sized and maximally efficient, competing against Microsoft's strategy of multiple incompatible, bloated, and fragmented operating systems. It's Apple's growing customer acceptance vs. Microsoft's rising customer pain. By failing to modernize its operating system in a timely way, Microsoft has left its flank wide open for an all-out assault from a once-vanquished rival.
Why Vista rocks:
As a company, and as individuals, Microsoft (MSFT) really does value honesty and openness. Consider this: In a presentation yesterday at RSA 2008 in San Francisco, David Cross, a product unit manager at Microsoft, explained the design concept behind the User Account Control in Windows Vista in the following very honest, very open way:
The reason we put UAC into the platform was to annoy users. I’m serious.”
A true credit to the company, that Cross.

If that truly is the reason for UAC’s inclusion in Vista, it’s served its purpose well.
How to make Vista even greater:
“Windows is too monolithic.” So says Gartner (IT) analyst Michael Silver who, with colleague Neil MacDonald, told attendees of a Gartner-sponsored conference in Las Vegas that Microsoft’s (MSFT) ubiquitous operating system is “collapsing” under the weight of 20 years of legacy code.

Silver and MacDonald argued that the operating system’s evolution is hamstrung by a vast and unwieldy code base that hampers meaningful change. “This is a large part of the reason Windows Vista delivered primarily incremental improvements,” they said. “Most users do not understand the benefits of Windows Vista or do not see Vista as being better enough than Windows XP to make incurring the cost and pain of migration worthwhile.”

Ob-vious-ly. And?

“Windows as we know it must be replaced,” said the two.

OK. But replaced with what?

It should be replaced with a smaller OS, the two analysts said. A thinner, more robust, more modular OS. One that makes application development, support and, above all, the user experience easier, more pleasant. An elegant OS that encourages users to upgrade, rather than desperately cling to older versions.

You mean an OS like … like Mac OS X (AAPL)? Isn’t Microsoft already working on something like that?
And if you read this far, a treat:

Justice In Our Leaders' Distorted America

There was a point last fall at which it seemed we were constantly learning of Bush-appointed U.S. Attorneys bringing dubious, politically-motivated charges against Democratic officials. Reader R.S. reminded me this week of one of the more striking examples out of Pennsylvania.

Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh, has long been the subject of questions about partisan prosecutions. But in 2006, Buchanan raised more than a few eyebrows when she went after former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht, indicting him on multiple counts of various federal crimes, including theft from an organization that receives federal funds.

What, exactly, did Wecht do? Apparently, his transgressions included the improper use of the coroner's fax machine for private work. There was no evidence "of a bribe or kickback" and no evidence that Wecht traded on a conflict of interest.

But Wecht's a Democrat, and for a U.S. Attorney anxious to impress her superiors in the Bush administration, apparently that was enough.

This week, a jury mulled over Buchanan's case against Wecht. The case ended, at least in the short term, with a hung jury.
After fifty hours of deliberations, the jury was hung and obviously going to stay hung. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh leaped at the chance for a re-trial, which has been scheduled for May.

If the view of a juror is any indication, conviction will be difficult. Rev. Stanley Albright, a juror who was excused last week when he became ill, told the AP, "I couldn't find the crime."
The jury foreman, who requested anonymity in light of the judge's request that jurors not yet speak publicly, told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette that he went into the trial with an open mind, but "as the case went on my thoughts were this was being politically driven."

You don't say.

The U.S. Attorney scandal has largely -- but not completely -- faded from public view, but I'm convinced the politicization of federal law enforcement will be remembered as the most outrageous part of Bush's domestic legacy.

Today's Deep Read

Garry Wills compares Abraham Lincoln and Obama.

My Gods In Action

Okay, I'm actually a pan-theist with false gods i.e. mortals.

And here's two of them (but Beyonce, even married, is the first among equals, okay?):

The Inanity Of Big Media Journalism

What kind of person thinks for a nano-second that this is anything of any importance whatsoever -- unless, like, someone has some sort of, you know, agenda? How is this justified??

Friday, April 11, 2008

The World's Greatest Health Insurance System Explained

The Leadership Of Our Next Beloved Leader

Some of John McCain's best friends are Neocons. So much so that he signed a letter in 1998 to President Clinton, that among other things stated that "the only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq is able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction." So when John McCain tells you that 9/11 changed his way of thinking, unless he's referring to 9/11/98, chalk it up to more of that famous "straight-talk."

Other signatories of this letter included a cast of characters who would become infamous for doing foreign policy the way Lindsay Lohan does driving. Including: Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz. Yes, those geniuses.

So when, on March 13, 2007, he didn't show up to vote on the "Keeping America Secure Act," one had to wonder what kind of agenda he's really committed to. Whatever the merits of that piece of legislation, one might have expected McCain, who portrays himself as a staunch defender against future 9/11s, to at least debate the issue. Upon further inspection it gets even more fishy.

McCain had 16 votes that day. He made 15 of them. The only one he missed was the one to codify the 9/11 Commission recommendations. And coincidentally, of course, Neocons hated those recommendations, because they talked about meeting with the Iranians and Syrians, for example, instead of just blowing them up. The following excerpt from my new book, The Real McCain (PoliPoint Press, 2008) explains what went down.


Unlike George W. Bush, McCain could never be accused of being AWOL from the military. But an examination of his congressional voting record might earn him the tag AWOC, or "Absent Without Courage." For McCain has shown that when it comes to the tough votes, the ones requiring him to take a stand, he adheres to the ancient philosophy espoused by Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid: "Best defense, no be there."

Simply put, in the first session of the 110th Congress (2007), the senator from Arizona missed, by a wide margin, more votes than any of his Senate colleagues but one, Democrat Tim Johnson, who was sidelined with a serious brain hemorrhage.

According to the Washington Post database tracking Senate "vote missers," McCain had missed a whopping 261 of 468 votes, or almost 56 percent, by March 2008. McCain is understandably busy running for president -- and all the candidates running for that highest of offices in 2008 have shown a poor record in showing up for votes. But number of votes missed is one thing; which votes you miss is another. McCain the maverick has missed votes in a way that betrays a calculated strategy: namely, to avoid going on the record when doing so would be politically risky.

On March 13, 2007, a critical roll call vote was held in the Senate on the Improving America's Security Act, which codified implementation of the 9/11 Commission recommendations for protecting America. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were there. So were then presidential candidates senators Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Joe Biden of Delaware, and Sam Brownback of Kansas. Where was John McCain? According to his official calendar, he was in California for a series of big-money fundraisers.

Did Arizona's senior senator think a key vote on protecting America wasn't important enough to make? Could it be that McCain didn't want to go against the wishes of his party and be on the record -- with 38 other Republicans -- in opposing increased security for America? McCain was the only senator, other than Tim Johnson, to miss that vote.

McCain wasn't out of town on the presidential campaign trail but was instead practicing the art of selective voting -- the art of "no be there" -- on March 23. It was a busy legislative day that saw 16 roll call votes on the floor. McCain voted dependably, right down the party line, on fifteen of those proposed votes. One might surmise that the missed vote occurred early in the morning, before McCain got to the office, or late at night, after he'd left, maybe to attend a fundraiser or get a beer with Imus.

Wrong. The vote McCain missed that day occurred right in the middle of the legislative day and between two other votes for which he was present. The one he missed was for an amendment (Amdt. 529) to provide $1.2 billion for the highly successful COPS program, an initiative that gives "local law enforcement critical resources necessary to prevent and respond to violent crime and acts of terrorism." Perhaps the issues before and after the ducked vote were not as uncomfortable for McCain. Have a look at the vote timeline for the hour in question:


It's possible that Senator McCain just happened to be in the men's room or the Senate cafeteria when vote number 110 was held. Or maybe he didn't want to be on record as voting against a provision called the Improving America's Security Act. McCain, unlike his 33 colleagues, would have to stand by that vote as a presidential candidate in 2008.

McCain found a way to miss most of the important votes on Iraq in the first part of the 110th Congress. He even bailed on a critical Iraq war briefing by General David Petraeus on April 25, 2007, so that he could campaign in New Hampshire that day.

Yet his speeches suggest complete vigilance. "We must win in Iraq. We cannot fail," said McCain in a May 2006 speech to the Utah State Republican Convention. "If we lose in Iraq, they're coming after us. We will fight them somewhere else -- like here. It's all part of a gigantic, titanic struggle between good and evil." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took notice: "Senator McCain," Reid said through his spokesperson Liz Oxhorn in May 2007, "has spent considerable time defending the president on Iraq ... but has only managed to show up for four of the last fourteen Iraq votes."


See them here!

Mac P*rn!

More Straight Talk

Just a couple of months ago, John McCain acknowledged, "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." For some reason, he has been trying to prove this point ever since.

Wednesday, for example, McCain made a campaign stop in Westport, Conn., where a voter, asking for some "straight talk," inquired as to how McCain plans to balance the federal budget. (McCain has vowed, repeatedly, to eliminate the deficit by the end of his first term in office.)
"I don't believe in a static economy," Mr. McCain said. "I believe that when there's stimulus for growth, when there's opportunity, when people keep more of their money -- and the government is the least efficient way to spend your money -- that economies improve."

"When Ronald Reagan came to office," he said, noting that few in the audience were old enough to remember, "we had 10 percent unemployment, 20 percent interest rates, and 10 percent inflation, if I've got those numbers right. That was when Ronald Reagan came to office in 1980. And so what did we do? We didn't raise taxes, and we didn't cut entitlements. What we did was we cut taxes and we put in governmental reductions in regulations, stimulus to the economy."
There's so much wrong with this, it's hard to know where to start. First, citing Reagan as a model for deficit reduction is foolish. The deficit tripled under Reagan.

Second, McCain hails Reagan's example for not raising taxes, but this overlooks a key detail -- Reagan did raise taxes, several times, to prevent his budget deficits from spiraling out of control.

And third, McCain concluded, "I believe we can grow this economy, and reduce this deficit." This is so utterly foolish, it's hard to believe a serious presidential candidate would be willing to say it out loud.

In just the past couple of months, McCain has been confused about the relationship between taxes and revenues, confused about whether he thinks our current economy is strong or not, confused about why interest rates even exist, confused about his own no-new-taxes pledge, confused about his own Social Security policy, and confused about how he'd pay for yet another round of reckless tax cuts.

After a quarter-century in Congress, when it comes to the economy, the poor guy sounds like he has no idea what he's talking about.

The Genius Of Beloved Leader (He's Apparently Still Around)

I've noticed that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to make a point of emphasizing the extraordinary financial costs associated with the war in Iraq. The message must be resonating with voters because this morning, the president offered his most detailed response ever to the charge.
Think about the Cold War. During the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, our defense budget rose as high as 13 percent of our total economy. Even during the Reagan administration, when our economy expanded significantly, the defense budget still accounted for about 6 percent of GDP. Our citizens recognized that the imperative of stopping Soviet expansion justified this expense.

Today, we face an enemy that is not only expansionist in its aims, but has actually attacked our homeland -- and intends to do so again. Yet our defense budget accounts for just over 4 percent of our economy -- less than our commitment at any point during the four decades of the Cold War. This is still a large amount of money, but it is modest -- a modest fraction of our nation's wealth.
First, if Bush wants to look at defense spending in a historical context, I'm delighted: "Today's defense spending is 14% above the height of the Korean War, 33% above the height of the Vietnam War, 25% above the height of the 'Reagan Era' buildup and is 76% above the Cold War average. In fact, since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the annual defense budget -- not including the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- has gone up 34%. Including war costs, defense spending has gone up 86% since 2001."

Second, the president referenced previous presidents and military eras without noting an important detail: Before Bush, no president ever cut taxes during a war. Lincoln raised taxes to pay for the Civil War. McKinley raised taxes to finance the Spanish-American War. Wilson raised the top income tax rate to 77 percent to afford WWI. Taxes were raised, multiple times, to help the nation pay for WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Even the first President Bush raised taxes after the first war with Iraq to, you guessed it, keep the deficit from spiraling out of control.

Why is this important? Because Bush isn't just spending extraordinary sums on a disastrous war, he's doing so in the most fiscally insane way possible -- by becoming the first president to ever put a military conflict on the nation's charge card, handing the bill to future generations.

With this in mind, Bush spoke this morning as if current defense spending was modest and inconsequential. This is sheer nonsense.

Straight Talk!

On ABC's The View this morning, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was asked about the great strain placed on U.S. troops due to the Iraq war. McCain recognized the strain and said that in order to motivate Americans to join the military, the government should provide stronger "educational benefits": "[O]ne of the things we ought to do is provide them significant educational benefits in return for serving."
Why, that's a great idea. Why hasn't someone thought of that before?

Wait, someone already did -- and for reasons that defy comprehension, McCain refuses to support the legislation.

To briefly recap for those just joining us, the GI Bill was instrumental in helping send a generation of U.S. veterans to college and helping create the nation's post-WWII middle class, but the law has not kept up with the times. Whereas veterans used to be able to count on the government to pay for all of their college expenses, troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are finding that the GI Bill barely scratches the surface of today's college costs.

Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., unveiled a GI Bill modernization bill over a year ago, which would increase troop benefits to pay for their education. From a patriotic perspective, this is showing real support for the troops. From a military perspective, it might make recruiting easier if young people knew they could go to college after their service for free. From an economic perspective, the country benefits when thousands of educated young people enter the workforce with degrees, as opposed to the alternative.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are busy on the campaign trail, but both have signed on as cosponsors of the Webb/Hagel bill. McCain, on the other hand, has stayed on the sidelines.

Why, then, is McCain going on national television to talk about how much he supports providing veterans with educational benefits? For that matter, why does the Bush administration actually oppose the Webb/Hagel bill? Kevin Drum explains:
They're afraid that updating GI benefits will hurt retention rates as soldiers leave the service to go to college. Charming, no? And of course, it would cost too much. Can't have that when it comes to programs that involve actual help for actual people. Apparently we're better off spending money on sugar subsidies and mediating gang wars in Iraq than we are helping vets get an education. Where's Mr. Straight Talk when you need him?
Nowhere to be found.

Christofascism In Action

More here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mitchy ( has sent you a card from!

Mitchy ( has sent you a card from!

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Since We Can't Get Our TV News From Walter Cronkite....

...this is the only alternative. What she lacks in Cronkite's gravitas and integrity, she makes up for being the hottest woman in the business. She is It -- no one compares close, okay?? Look!

One Of The Saint's Early Accomplishments: Lack Of Judgment

Twenty-one years ago today five U.S. senators met with federal savings and loan regulators at the request of Charles Keating, who controlled Lincoln Savings and Loan. They became known as the "Keating Five"—Alan Cranston, D-Calif., Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., John Glenn, D-Ohio, John McCain, R-Ariz., and Donald Riegle, D-Mich. The Keating Five meeting was the event that transformed the S&L debacle from a story buried in the business section to one of the worst financial and political scandals in U.S. history (though the current financial crises have proven even worse).

The Keating Five, including McCain, were perfectly situated to take action to protect their constituents. They could have held oversight hearings. They could have warned the widows. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," an anonymous commenter one said (in a statement generally, but inaccurately, attributed to Edmund Burke). These men did nothing.

Lincoln was (and remains) the most expensive S&L failure of an insured U.S. depository, costing the taxpayers $3.4 billion. Keating recruited the senators because the regulators were about to remove his control over Lincoln. The regulators had discovered that Lincoln had large losses and was engaged in widespread fraud and forgeries designed to hide its violation of the "direct investment" rule. That violation was the largest in history — over $600 million. S&Ls that had large amounts of direct investment always failed. Direct investments were fatal not because of their intrinsic risk, but because they were superb aids to accounting fraud, the "weapon of choice" of financial firms.

When Keating launched a jihad against the proposed direct investment rule in 1984, he used politicians as his most important ally. He began in the House of Representatives. Within a few weeks, he was able to get a majority of members to co-sponsor a resolution intended to kill the direct investment rule. The supporters included John McCain (then a congressman), Jim Wright, D-Texas, (soon to be the Speaker of the House), and Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., (soon to be Wright's nemesis and a strong critic of his aid to fraudulent S&L owners). McCain was, and remains, a strident opponent of financial regulation. Federal Home Loan Bank Board chairman Edwin Gray, convinced that direct investments posed a critical threat to the taxpayers, went ahead with the regulation.

Second, Keating tried to get President Reagan to fire Gray. Keating's lobbyist, "Mickey" Gardner, reported that they found significant support within the administration for this effort—particularly in the office of Vice President Bush (who chaired the administration's financial deregulation task force). The (Republican!) lobbyist reported in disgust that he couldn't get Gray fired because "like so many before him in this Administration, [Gray] would have to be criminally liable or worse before they would be removed."

Third, Keating followed Gardner's advice to stage a hostile takeover of the regulator in 1986. He had already used large political contributions and the lobbying of Alan Greenspan to recruit the "Keating Five." He now used several of the congressmen, principally McCain (the only Republican among the Keating Five), to help convince the Reagan administration to appoint two of his cronies to the Bank Board (which would have given Keating majority control of the agency).

Keating needed the senators' help to overcome rival candidates and internal opposition to the nominations. Phil Gramm, a more senior Republican senator on the banking committee, pushed the nomination of Durward Curlee, a Texas lobbyist representing the most notorious S&L frauds in Texas and, after Keating, the strongest opponent of S&L regulation. Keating was a major contributor to President Reagan, but he had never held elected office. His ability to convince the Reagan administration to reject Gramm's proposed nominee and agree to appoint both of Keating's proposed nominees was an astonishing demonstration of political power.

Keating also had to overcome serious internal opposition within the Reagan administration. The administration attempt to nominate Keating as U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas in the early 1980s had to be abandoned in embarrassment when it was revealed that Keating had signed a Securities and Exchange Commission consent decree to settle allegations that he had defrauded a financial institution. The White House personnel director, Robert Tuttle, was in charge of vetting Keating's proposed nominees. He called Republican contacts in Arizona (where Keating lived) and learned that Keating's had a reputation "for buying politicians." Tuttle recommended against the Keating appointments.

Keating's flaws were immediately obvious. In addition to his SEC problems, he was arrogant, domineering, rude, nasty, and a virulent bigot. Senator Garn (R. UT) refused to meet with him again after their first meeting. Treasury Undersecretary George Gould, instructed the Treasury guards to bar Keating from entry after their first meeting. Nevertheless, President Reagan rejected Tuttle's recommendation and tried to appoint both of Keating's choices. Had he succeeded, the cost of the debacle would have grown tenfold and the political scandal would have dwarfed Teapot Dome. Fortunately, Senator Dole blocked the nomination of one of Keating's choices.

President Reagan did make Lee Henkel a recess appointment in 1986. Henkel became Keating's "mole" on the Bank Board. His first substantive act was to propose an amendment to the direct investment rule (secretly drafted by Keating's lawyers) that would have immunized Lincoln's massive violation of the rule. (The amendment was cleverly drafted in a manner that did not mention Lincoln, but fit it like a glove.) Unfortunately for Keating and Henkel, I spotted the effort and blew the whistle. Henkel was severely criticized by the media and resigned in a deal with a Justice Department (in return, they dropped their investigation). (Years later, the Bank Board's successor agency "removed and prohibited" Henkel from the industry for his misconduct.) The Keating Five knew that Henkel had sought to amend the rule to immunize Lincoln, and they knew that he had resigned in disgrace. Appropriately, the resignation became public on April Fools' Day — the day before four of the senators (Riegle was a surprise no show) met with Bank Board Chairman Gray at Keating's request to urge Gray not to take any action against Lincoln's violation of the rule.

The Keating Five waged Keating's fourth political campaign against the direct investment rule. The context of the campaign was the Bank Board's effort to "recapitalize" the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation ("FSLIC Recap) in order to secure funds to further its top priority — closing the fraudulent S&Ls like Lincoln. The FSLIC Recap bill had a second vital element — it would restore the Bank Board's lapsed powers to close many state chartered S&Ls like Lincoln. This meant that Keating had a vital need to block passage of the bill.

Senator Cranston, at Keating's request, blocked passage of the bill in the Senate by placing a secret "hold" on the bill. House Majority Leader Jim Wright, D-Texas, and Representative Pryor openly blocked the bill in the House. Wright extorted Gray, demanding favorable treatment for Texas frauds Pryor, demanded that fewer Arkansas S&Ls be closed and sanctioned. (He would later serve on the Senate ethics committee investigating the Keating Five — so they truly had a jury of their peers!) FSLIC Recap was the Bank Board's ultimate priority. The FSLIC fund was down to $500 million — to insure an industry of over $1 trillion in liabilities that was insolvent by perhaps $100 billion in 1986. The S&L frauds' political allies had total leverage over Gray and he repeatedly made concessions demanded by Majority Leader (and Speaker of the House in January 1987), Jim Wright. The CEOs of each of the S&Ls that Wright sought favors for were looting "their" S&Ls — including Vernon Savings (after Lincoln, the worst S&L fraud).

Keating knew that adding the Keating Five's political clout in the Senate to Speaker Wright's domination of the House would doom the FSLIC Recap bill (which was reintroduced in 1987) and put irresistible pressure on Gray to back off from taking enforcement action against Lincoln. He made the threat explicit by telling Undersecretary Gould that he could induce five senators to either be a great help or strong opponents of the FSLIC Recap bill. (This is the conversation that caused Gould to bar Keating from the Treasury building.) By April 2, 1987, Speaker Wright's House allies had made a travesty of the FSLIC Recap bill — reducing the funding from $15 billion to $5 billion and mandating "forbearance" provisions designed to gut the Bank Board's ability to close failed S&Ls. Our only hope was that the Senate would pass a better version of the bill and that the conference committee would favor the Senate version. Keating had arranged for the Keating Five to pressure Gray at exactly the time they had maximum leverage over him.

Keating Prepares the Senators for the April 2, 1987 Meeting

Keating prepared the Senators carefully for the April 2 meeting. He sent them detailed explanations of how severely a Bank Board enforcement action would limit his ability to control Lincoln. He explained how passage of the FSLIC Recap bill would allow the Bank Board to end that control. He called Gray a "Mad Dog" and a "Nazi." He asked the Senators to convince Gray not to take any enforcement action against Lincoln in return for his promise that Lincoln would begin to make home loans.

Senator DeConcini hosted the April 2 meeting. He carefully set up the meeting for deniability. His staff instructed Gray not to bring any staffers. Each of the Senators came to the meeting without any staff. The chances of that happening without prior agreement were non-existent. The meeting was designed to make sure that if things went badly it would be the word of five senators against that of Gray. The senators thought there was safety in numbers. They were disturbed that Senator Riegle did not attend the April 2 meeting.

McCain's Attendance at the April 2 Meeting

Senator McCain has said that upon reviewing Keating's written materials about what he wanted the Senators to do in their meeting with Gray he decided that Keating's requests were improper because they called for the Senators to negotiate an agreement to escape enforcement action on Keating's behalf. McCain informed Keating that he would not attend the meeting. Keating met with Senator Riegle and told him of McCain's decision — and said that McCain was "a wimp." Riegle's aide told McCain what Keating had said. McCain, enraged, summoned Keating to his office. Keating, who dominated virtually every conversation, could not get a word in during McCain's tirade. Keating's insult, of course, was absurd. McCain is the last person in the world that anyone would believe was a "wimp." Keating, however, apparently knew how successful his taunt would be with a man who still felt (against all reason) that he had not always sufficiently resisted his North Vietnamese torturers. McCain, despite believing that what Keating wanted the Senators to do was improper, decided to join his colleagues at the April 2 meeting.

The April 2 Meeting

Senator DeConcini began the meeting by stating that "we" wanted Gray not to take enforcement action against Lincoln and that in return "our friend" Charles Keating would ensure that Lincoln would begin to make home loans. He was speaking on behalf of the group — and no Senator expressed any disagreement or difference with the position he articulated. The Senators also complained that the agency was harassing Lincoln and demanded Gray's explanation for the abuse. Gray told them there were 3000 S&Ls and he did not know the details of Lincoln's regulation, but that he had total confidence in the Bank Board's regulators for Lincoln at the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco (FHLBSF). He said that if the Senators needed the details they would have to talk to the FHLBSF supervisors. Gray informed several of us at the Bank Board of what had happened at the meeting immediately after the meeting.

The April 9 Meeting

All five of the Senators attended the April 9 meeting with James Cirona (FHLBSF President), Michael Patriarca (chief supervisor), Richard Sanchez (Lincoln's supervisory agent), and me. I took the only notes of the meeting. They are extraordinarily detailed. I circulated them to the other FHLBSF participants to ensure their accuracy and Gray sent Riegle a copy. Each of the Keating Five testified that the notes were accurate and complete. The Senators again excluded their aides from the meeting. Senator DeConcini began the meeting by again using the word "we" and proposing Keating's "quid pro quo" of dropping any enforcement action against Lincoln's violation of the direct investment rule in return for Lincoln making some home loans. No Senator disagreed or distinguished his position.

Senator Cranston accentuated the group nature of the Keating Five. He was the floor manager for a bill that was very important to him and was coming to a critical vote that night, yet he left the floor and came briefly to Senator DeConcini's office to state that he supported his colleagues' position. Each of the Senators was aware of the group position supporting Keating's efforts to immunize the massive violation of the direct investment rule.

At the meeting, because it was the only way to treat to get the Senators to back off their pressure, we revealed to them that we had decided to make criminal referrals against Lincoln's leaders because of widespread fraud. Mike Patriarca guaranteed that Lincoln would fail if it continued its investment practices.

The Keating Five Prove Lucky in their (Initial) Regulatory "Opponents"

The paradox is that the Keating Five proved so unlucky in their choice of Keating as their ally and so lucky in their initial regulatory "opponents." We were not the Keating Five's opponents, but that is how they perceived us. We were their public servants trying to warn them that they were being manipulated by a fraud that was causing enormous harm to their constituents and exposing the Senators to scandal. Had Gray caved, Lincoln would have been untouchable. Lincoln would have been able to resume its extraordinary growth and expand its direct investments. No line supervisory would have dared to take on Keating. Lincoln's losses would have grown at an even faster rate than its asset growth. By the time it collapsed losses would likely have exceeded $10 billion. The Keating Five's decisive role in producing these catastrophic results would have been undeniable. Gray, however, refused to be intimidated. Keating's timing, which had seemed so perfect, proved too late. Gray had decided that Speaker Wright simply increased his demands when Gray gave in to his extortion, and that he could not in good conscience continue to give in to Wright's pressure. The Bank Board moved to close Vernon Savings (the second worst S&L fraud) and publicly criticized Wright's efforts to secure regulatory favors for Vernon.

The Senators also proved lucky in that, while Gray did not cave in to their pressure, he also could not afford to criticize them publicly given the tenuous fate of the FSLIC Recap bill. Gray's term ended on June 30, 1987. (Wright and Treasury Secretary Baker had agreed at a secret meeting that Gray would not be reappointed.) Gray's successor, Danny Wall, was acceptable to Wright. Wall, while a Senate staffer, had encouraged Gray to give in to Wright's extortion. Among his first acts was to issue a gag order forbidding me to speak to the press.

The Keating Five Prove Unlucky in Allying with Keating

Keating proved to be the worst of the S&L looters, and Lincoln the most expensive failure at $3.4 billion. Deposit insurance meant that there were no identifiable individual victims when S&Ls failed. Lincoln's parent company, however, sold uninsured, worthless junk bonds out of Lincoln's branches. Worse, it targeted widows. This created individual victims who lost their life's savings — and the face of the victim was your grandmother. Keating then compounded the Senators' problems. The Associated Press recently reported the story as follows:

The banker's attitude was summed up the day a reporter asked whether his political donations to the senators encouraged their intervention.

"I want to say in the most forceful way I can, I certainly hope so," Keating replied.

The AP quotation is correct, and it is obviously the worst possible thing Keating could have said from Senators' perspective. The first sentence of the AP story, however, is wrong, and it shows that the reporter did not grasp the trait that made Keating the worst of the looters — audacity. Keating called a press conference, but he did not allow the reporters to ask any questions. He read written answers to questions he had prepared. This was a planned statement, not off the cuff.

Keating adds Speaker Wright's Pressure to that of the Keating Five

Wall, the self-described "child of the Senate", came into office determined to avoid conflicts with powerful politicians. He promptly ordered the FHLB examination and the enforcement investigation of Lincoln halted. Both actions were unprecedented. They followed a meeting between Bank Board staff and Lincoln's leadership. The FHLBSF was not informed that the meeting would occur. It was consulted prior to the order to stop the examination. Wall then ordered that the agency re-examine the FHLBSF's findings. This was unprecedented. The review disappointed Wall because it supported the FHLBSF's findings and found no basis for Keating's complaints against the FHLBSF. Despite these facts, the Bank Board refused to consider the FHLBSF's recommendations to place Lincoln in conservatorship or take stringent enforcement actions based on the violation of the direct investment rule and fraudulent acts. (FSLIC Recap passed in August 1987, and restored the Bank Board's lapse conservatorship powers.)

The Wall Bank Board also refused to be briefed by the FHLBSF on its recommendations. Both refusals were unprecedented. Wall then sought to induce the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle (FHLBS) to permit Lincoln to transfer to its jurisdiction. The FHLBS declined, stating that it agreed with the FHLBSF's concerns and that they were disturbed by Keating's response to their question of why he was neither an officer nor board member of Lincoln: "I don't want to go to jail." This action was unprecedented. While the Bank Board Chairman Wall and Board Member Martin declined to be briefed by the FHLBSF, they met several times with Keating. This was unprecedented.

When Bank Board and FHLBSF staff members were to meet with Keating in early 1988, Keating demanded that I be excluded from the meeting, and the Bank Board acceded to his demand. At another meeting with Lincoln's leaders the FHLBSF was allowed to have only one representative present — and only on the condition that he would not be permitted to speak. All of these actions were unprecedented.

Remember that by this juncture the Bank Board had confirmed that Lincoln had committed the largest violation of a rule in history, was engaged in widespread forgeries and other forms of deception that had led the agency to file an extensive criminal referral, was investing primarily in assets (direct investments) in quantities that had proved fatal in every S&L, and was growing rapidly. By any logical standard it should have been the agency's top enforcement priority. Instead it got unprecedented favors that destroyed the agency's integrity and exposed the taxpayers to enormous losses. Fear of Keating's political power was the only possible explanation for these actions. James Boland, Wall's chief of staff, emphasized this fear in discussions with the FHLBSF's top supervisor, Michael Patriarca. He said that Keating was so powerful that: "he can get you in ways you'll never know you've been got."

Keating's and Wall's mutual problem, however, was that the FHLBSF refused to back down. Keating's top priority became another unprecedented demand — Wall must remove the FHLBSF's jurisdiction over Lincoln. Keating now used the Keating Five to recruit Speaker Wright as an ally and to make Wall aware of that alliance. He used Senator Cranston to set up a late afternoon meeting with Wall for January 28, 1988. He used Senator Glenn to set up a luncheon with Speaker Wright on the same day. At the luncheon meeting Keating experienced the second occasion in which a prominent politician dominated the conversation. Speaker Wright dominated it, denouncing Gray and me. The Speaker then invited Keating to come to his chambers and work with his staff. Wright urged Keating to get me fired and to sue Gray and me. (He soon sued both of us for $400 million — suits eventually dismissed by the courts.) When Keating met with Wall he first made clear that he had just come from a meeting with Speaker and Senator Glenn. Keating next told Wall:

That is one man in Congress you would get along with much, much better if you took care of the problem in San Francisco. There is a red-bearded lawyer that's a real problem. If you took care of that problem, you would get along much better with Speaker Wright.

Keating was referring to me. Unfortunately, for Keating (and Wall), Wall could only fire me "for cause" and he had no cause. The only way to take care of the problem was to remove the FHLBSF's jurisdiction over Lincoln Savings. Wall promptly ordered his staff to reach an "amicable resolution" with Keating. The only way to do that was to remove our jurisdiction. In addition to that unprecedented act (which sent shock waves throughout federal regulators), Wall agreed that the FHLBSF's examination findings (which the Bank Board had confirmed to be accurate) could not be used. This too was unprecedented.

The result of Wall's surrender to political intimidation was devastating. Lincoln remains the most expensive insured depository failure in U.S. history. Lincoln's parent defrauded over ten thousand widows. The Bank Board's reputation was destroyed (the 1989 legislation terminated it). Wall, of course, denies that he capitulated to Keating's political power. To admit that he did so would have destroyed Wall's efforts to remain head of new S&L regulatory agency. The facts, however, falsify Wall's denial. Note that the Wall Bank Board never took any enforcement action against Lincoln's massive violation of the direct investment rule even though it agreed that it was the largest regulatory violation in the agency's history. This immunity is precisely what Keating sought to achieve through his mole's (Lee Henkel's) proposed amendment to the direct investment rule and the Keating Five's effort to induce the Bank Board not to take an enforcement action in return for Lincoln beginning to make home loans.

McCain's Relationship with Keating

Senator McCain is the only member of the Keating Five still in office. He was unique among the group on several dimensions. He was the only Republican. He had the longest, closest relationship with Keating. The relationship was social — Lincoln's airplanes flew Senator and Mrs. McCain, their children, and a nanny to stay at Keating's vacation home in the Bahamas. Senator McCain blames his failure to reimburse the expenses (which he was required to do by law), on his staff. He reimbursed only years later after the scandal broke. No other Senator had a close social relationship with Keating or similar airplane use issues. Keating was a bully and a nasty bigot, whom many politicians refused to deal with once they knew him, but Senator McCain viewed him as a personal friend (and major contributor) for a decade.

Only Senator McCain (and Lee Henkel) had a financial conflict of interest involving the direct investment rule. Senator McCain's wife and father-in-law were engaged in a direct investment with Lincoln. Had the Bank Board taken enforcement action against Lincoln's violation of the direct investment rule Senator McCain's wife and father-in-law's investment would have been placed in substantial risk of loss.

Only Senator McCain was in the House at the time Keating enlisted a majority of the House to co-sponsor his resolution designed to kill the direct investment rule. He was the only member of the Keating Five, therefore who was a co-sponsor. More generally, Senator McCain was the Senator most opposed to financial regulation in general and Gray's "reregulation" of S&Ls in particular. As his March 25, 2008 speech on the ongoing mortgage crisis makes clear, he continues to call for greater deregulation of the kind that is causing our financial crises to become more severe and more common.

Senator McCain's efforts to convince the Reagan administration to give Keating de facto control over the Bank Board by appointing two nominees chosen by Keating to run the agency were not unique among the Keating Five, but he was the most important support for Keating's effort because he was a Republican.

Senator McCain was not unique in not giving direct aid to Keating after the April 9 meeting. It is important to consider how Keating shaped Wall's perspective of the Keating Five's support. He used both Senator Cranston and Senator Glenn's active, continuing support (in February 1988, almost a year after the April 2 and April 9, 1987 meetings) to show Wall that he retained the Keating Five's loyalty and he used Senator Glenn to help recruit Speaker Wright as an ally — knowing that Wall had advised Gray to give in to Wright's political pressure. Wall had no way of knowing that Senator McCain and Senator Riegle were no longer taking affirmative actions to help Keating get the Bank Board not to bring an enforcement action against Lincoln.

Omission and Commission

None of the Keating Five members helped protect their constituents by supporting regulatory efforts to end Keating's looting of Lincoln. We told them in fair detail at the April 9, 1987 meeting that it was a fraudulent institution and that it was guaranteed to fail if it continued its policies. The Keating Five were well aware of their political power and Keating's political power. They were aware that the Wall Bank Board was taking unprecedented actions in favor of Keating. We could not act. We were gagged. We were forbidden to examine Lincoln. We were excluded from meetings or ordered to remain silent. The new examiners were forbidden by Wall to speak to us about Lincoln.

I noted that the senators structured the April 2, 1987 meeting to ensure deniability by designing it to be the word of five Senators against one "bureaucrat" should things go wrong. They knew that the meeting was dangerous because they knew agencies are supposed to take stringent enforcement actions against massive, intentional violations of rules — particularly when the nature of the violation causes failures. They also knew that Keating's mole, Lee Henkel, had just resigned in disgrace after we had blown the whistle on his attempt to immunize Lincoln's violation of the direct investment rule. This is why they excluded all staff from the April 2 meeting. When the meeting became public, along with Gray's criticism of their effort to pressure him to agree to Keating's quid pro quo deal, each of the Senators lied about the meeting. They lied by claiming that Gray had lied about their support for Keating's deal. (Eventually, it emerged that Senator DeConcini was reading from a staffer's memorandum that expressly stated the quid pro quo.)

The Senate ethics committee ignored the Senator's false statements about the meetings. (It also failed to investigate the impact of the Senator's actions in Keating's behalf.) I believe that structuring a meeting to set up a lie, lying, and defaming another person you know has told the truth (i.e., claiming that Gray's statement about the quid pro quo proposal was false), demonstrate severe character flaws and should be considered unethical in the context of the U.S. Senate.

The Saint Says Washington Is Satanic

And here's the proof that he's right!

Business Tips From The Mafia

They're violent, they're ruthless, they have caused misery to many, but you can't fault their business sense: mafia bosses know how to make a profit. Its practices may be largely illegal, but Cosa Nostra is not as retrograde, or conservative, as it has often been portrayed. Its raison d'etre is profit. Like any business, it is pragmatic and constantly changing to exploit new opportunities.

Big business has learned how to sell itself to the public, with television shows such as The Apprentice and Dragons' Den granting us a view of harsh but compellingly competitive environments. Businessmen such as Sir Alan Sugar, Duncan Bannatyne and Peter Jones have become unlikely media personalities. But the mafia has been using these methods for years.

When Bernardo Provenzano took over the organisation in the mid-90s, he inherited a depleted and demoralised workforce, who had scuppered their own access to politics and industry. The bombs that killed anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino had created a PR disaster and a law enforcement backlash. Hundreds of mafiosi were in prison, and many of them were so disillusioned with the organisation that they were telling the authorities everything they knew.

Magistrates and mafiosi agree: Provenzano was the charismatic force who revived the fortunes of Cosa Nostra. It has been said of Provenzano, as of so many mafia entrepreneurs, that had he turned his talents and resources to legitimate business, he would have been extremely successful. Fortunately, the mafia's particular modus operandi - the use or threat of violence to create monopolies and price-fixing cartels - is not part of general business practice. But his "System" turned around a failing organisation with far-sighted tactics worthy of any business impresario. The fact that he wrote his reforms by letter means that we have what amounts to seven rules for running a successful business.

Rule 1: Submersion

When a company is failing, the first step is to take it below the radar. You want to lose that cursed epithet "troubled" as quickly as possible, even if it means disappearing from the business pages."It's the sensible thing to do - you bury your mistakes and get on with it," says Peter Wallis (known as Peter York in his other guise, as a social commentator), management consultant at SRU Ltd. You also want to buy shareholders' patience and convince them to hold their nerve and trust you.

"Our aim was to make Cosa Nostra invisible, giving us time to regroup," recalled Provenzano's lieutenant, Nino Giuffrè, who collaborated shortly after his arrest in 2002. After a series of power struggles that had left many dead, businessmen were understandably reluctant to return calls. Mafiosi were instructed to avoid any activity that would attract publicity. If a factory owner refused to pay protection, no one was to set fire to the machinery or blow up the trucks. Peaceful persuasion was the only way.

By contrast with the old-style system of shoot first and ask questions later, any hostile action would have to be thoroughly assessed for potential PR damage. "It was essential to weigh up whether a person could do more damage dead or alive," revealed Giuffrè.

Announcing his system, Provenzano warned that recovery would take time: members might have to wait between five and seven years before they were making profits again. Rebuilding links with business and politicians could only be done out of the glare of publicity. In relative obscurity, Cosa Nostra would be repositioned to shake off its parasitic image and become part of the industrial and political institutions.

Rule 2: Mediation

"Be calm, clear, correct and consistent, turn any negative experiences to account, don't dismiss everything people tell you, or believe everything you're told. Always try to discover the truth before you speak, and remember that, to make your judgment, it's never enough to have just one source of information."

This letter has been described as "a manifesto of Cosa Nostra under Bernardo Provenzano". After a decade of unspeakable violence under the previous leader, Totò Riina, Provenzano changed the culture of Cosa Nostra by instructing his men in the art of negotiation and the importance of dialogue.

Provenzano was decisive, and on occasion demanded swift and direct answers to his questions, but he could be a ditherer when it suited him. Playing for time, he encouraged his men to negotiate agreements between them. If that failed, Provenzano was at his typewriter night and day, offering his wisdom and experience (and just occasionally, a little double-dealing) to resolve disputes.

Like any company director, who carefully crafts his or her media persona, Provenzano didn't want to come across as a tyrant, he wanted to be a "kindly dictator". He coordinated the activities of different and competing groups, without imposing his will. He was the uncontested boss, but he gave the impression that his decisions were reached after long consultation.

Rule 3: Consensus

Provenzano answered letters from every level of society about job vacancies, exam results, local health and hospital administration. Like the charity work carried out by major corporations today, Provenzano was clear: the mafia must present itself as a positive element of society. The boss had to appear as a beneficent figure, an uncle whose advice and consent was sought on all matters - business and personal. He understood that persuading the people they need you is a far more effective way of promoting your business than imposition and violence.

"Let me know whatever [the people] need," he wrote to his adviser, "they must expect nothing but good from us."

One key step in the organisation's recovery was recapturing the popular consensus. The mafia has always relied on the obedience (goodwill might be putting it too strongly) of the community. In the business of selling protection, social control is essential: if your "clients" unite and rebel, you're in trouble.

Rule 4: Keep God on your side

Part of Provenzano's bid to reclaim the people's trust and rehabilitate Cosa Nostra with its traditional followers was to assume a mantle of piety. He presented himself in pastoral role - trustworthy and authoritative. His letters read like the parish priest's homily, and he would send his men tracts copied from the Bible.

Investigators tried hard to discover a hidden code beneath all the underlined passages in his Bible. In fact, it seems, he found them genuinely useful as leadership tools.

Provenzano's choice of tracts revealed, according to investigators, "a certain attention to rules, to punishments, guilt and vengeance, as though he were searching for some inspiration and authority to support him in his responsibilities and the decisions that were a necessary part of being the head of an organisation".

In an approach adopted by politicians including Tony Blair, Provenzano's letters contain the strong implication that God is exercising his will through him ("May the Lord bless you and keep you ... know that where I can be of use to you, with the will of God, I am completely at your disposal ... ").

The status as homespun churchgoer also worked for George Bush in his pursuit of popular consensus. "Bush's religion is very variable," comments Wallis. "He courts rightwing evangelicals but he doesn't buy the whole package; he merely wants to relate to them."

Rule 5: Be politically flexible

Businessmen from all walks of life and political persuasion usually find themselves co-opted on to a government advisory board eventually. The East End boy made good is not your traditional Labour supporter, but Sir Alan Sugar has reportedly been advising Gordon Brown on enterprise. "This government's not Labour, it's old-fashioned Tory," he says. "I prefer Gordon to Tony. Blair was refreshing but Brown is more like me. He has a strong work ethic."

Provenzano took this further, changing his political allegiance whenever it suited him. He looked for politicians who were prepared to pursue his self-serving demands for lighter sentences against convicted mafiosi, as well as the end of protection for collaborators. "Links were to be forged behind the scenes with politicians who had no trace of connection to scandal or sleaze," recalled Giuffrè. "If a politician was seen to be supported by men of honour of a certain rank, within 24 hours he'd be destroyed by the opposition."

Rule 6: Reinvention

In case of a political scandal, or a business failure, it is vital for the new boss to be able to distance himself from the whole affair. Indeed, he may find it useful to take on a new persona altogether. When Stuart Rose returned to Arcadia after three years to rescue it, he said: "What is interesting is that people here think I haven't changed, but I have been gone three years. I am not the same Stuart Rose, I have changed a lot."

With Provenzano's new directives, not only did the negative headlines cease, but he managed to dissociate himself from the scandals that had gone before. Like everyone else, he had emerged from Cosa Nostra's most violent decade with his reputation in tatters; his advisers helped him to "get his virginity back", in Giuffrè's interesting phrase. With the help of his PR-savvy advisers, he made sure no one associated him with the violent years, and created his image as the peacemaker.

"When I got out of prison," Giuffrè recalled, "I found Provenzano a changed man; from the hitman he once was, now he showed signs of saintliness."

Rule 7: Modesty

During his career, Provenzano transformed himself from a hired thug, to business investor, political mastermind and, ultimately, strategist and leader. Part of his mystique was that no one really knew whether he was a genius or an illiterate chancer. To emphasise his humble character and present himself as a simple man of the people he would write letters full of spelling and grammatical mistakes, and always signed off with the same humble apology: "I beg your forgiveness for the errors in my writing ..."

Every letter ends with the same saintly and affectionate benediction and an apology for grammatical errors. The bad spelling and schoolboy mistakes detracted nothing from the authority of its writer. For a man who moved easily in the worlds of business and politics, it was apparently part of a carefully constructed image. Investigators maintain his semi-literacy was a deliberate ruse.

It's a strategy that political and business leaders have used to good effect. "George Bush's family is as upper-class as you're going to get in the United States," says Wallis. "He is not a real Texan. To what extent he talks like that out of incompetence, to what extent it is crowd- pleasing, we don't know - but we know it works."

Similarly, Justin King, multimillionaire saviour of Sainsbury's, says: "I'm not a book reader ... I'm just a normal bloke." Sugar has never disavowed his East End roots, his upbringing in a Hackney council house. He doesn't give himself airs, but the point is still made: he grew up with no privileges, but he is the one with the power.

Provenzano took false modesty a step further, suggesting (almost entirely untruthfully) that he would rather have someone else in charge. "They want me to tell them what to do," he wrote, "but who am I to tell them how to conduct themselves? I can't give orders to anyone, indeed I look for someone who can give orders to me."

Unfortunately for him, since his arrest in 2006, his wishes have been fulfilled.

· Boss of Bosses: How Bernardo Provenzano Saved the Mafia is published by John Murray (rrp £20). To order a copy for £18 with free UK p&p go to or call 0870 836 0875.Link.

The Saint Explains How When He Says 100 Years, He Actually Means Maybe 1,000 or 10,000

This is straight talk! No flip-flopping! Or not....

Leadership Of The Saint

His people don't know how to spell his name.

Viddie Of The Day; Creating A $100 Bill

Ten Thousand Cents from Ten Thousand Cents on Vimeo.

The resulting site is here.

Why You're Reading This

What they found is that reading blogs has become a habit integrated into Internet use for many people, akin to instinctively checking e-mail. Several of the blog readers described it as simply a way to pass the time, using terms like "wasting time" and "doing nothing." One of them described it in terms of addiction: "I don’t really look forward to cigarettes anymore, but it's something that happens through the course of the day that I feel like I might need to do. It just becomes habit, I guess."

Given that attitude, a few of the other findings aren't much of a surprise. For one, the temporal structure of a blog is only important due to the role it plays in where stories appear on screen. People will tend to read the top ones first, and browse deeper only if they have time—if they don't, the deeper stories generally don't get read. A product of this is that few of the blog readers felt their habits contributed to a sense of information overload.

Despite this casual approach to content, blog readers take a number of aspects of the content very seriously. One example of this dichotomy is that a reader that can't be bothered to search for new blogs beyond the ones he currently reads, but still engages in offline activities based on what he's seen in the ones he does read.

One key feature for most users was a sense of community. Even though blogging is an inherently one-to-many activity, most readers felt a personal connection to the author. This could foster the feeling that the reader belonged to the community even in the absence of participation, and led those who did participate via comments to agonize over their content. Only one of the study participants said they enjoyed triggering flame wars; most of the others felt their comments were a form of appreciation for the blog author, and worked hard to make them insightful and cogent.

This produced a distinction between smaller blog communities and popular, news-focused blogs. These didn't produce the same sense of belonging, and readers tended to focus more on their content than their community. That result suggests that the blogging community will always have a long tail, as readers search for smaller places where they can continue to find a sense of connection with the authors.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Triple Play Viddies Of The Day

It's like a damn film festival except a lot smaller.

They're Right; The Times Really Isn't The Paper Of Record, Just The Best Of A Mediocre Lot

This is inexcuseable.

Where is "Lies Of Our Times" when we need it?
New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt has offered a response to media activists who wrote to the paper about its non-coverage of last month's Winter Soldier hearings. Hoyt's explanation is that reporters at the Times had "not been aware of the group or its meeting," but likely wouldn't have covered it if they had been aware of the event.

The idea that the Times was unaware of Winter Soldier is remarkable; the paper's D.C. reporters were repeatedly sent press releases about the events, the same ones that other media outlets received that did manage to cover the event, ranging from Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! to the New York Times' corporate sibling the Boston Globe.

Hoyt's letter in full:

Dear Reader,

Thank you for writing about the Winter Soldier event in Maryland last month and its lack of coverage by the Times.

My assistant checked with various editors at the Times to see if there was any discussion about covering the Winter Soldier meeting. The editor in the Washington bureau who oversees national security coverage said he had not been aware of the group or its meeting. The Times normally has three Pentagon reporters. The meeting fell within their area of coverage, and one of them probably would have been assigned had editors chosen to staff the event. But one is on book leave, one was traveling with the secretary of defense, and one was in Iraq covering the war. The Times also did not cover an announcement the following day by Vets for Freedom, a group supporting the war and claiming more than 13 times the membership of Iraq Veterans Against the War, the group which organized Winter Soldier.

One group was emphasizing what it charged were war crimes, war profiteering and war mismanagement. The other group was protesting what it charged was the failure of the media to report more fully on signs of progress in Iraq, such as rebuilt schools and infrastructure.

News organizations like the Times, with its own substantial investment in independent reporting from Iraq tend to prefer their own on-scene accounts of the war, rather than relying on charges and counter-charges at home by organizations with strongly held political viewpoints about the war.

Clark Hoyt

The Times’ D.C. bureau editor’s claim to have not heard of the hearings is remarkable, given that the AP newswire carried a story on the hearings, and IVAW has confirmed to FAIR that the D.C. bureau had been sent three separate rounds of different IVAW press releases. In addition, at least 150 Times staffers were sent press releases about Winter Soldier by the Institute for Public Accuracy, a group that encourages inclusion of overlooked facts and progressive perspectives in media coverage. Given that media organizations operating on a small fraction of the Times' budget were aware of and able to find the resources to cover these hearings, the Times’ D.C. bureau’s plea to ignorance about the hearings is all the more disappointing.

Meanwhile, Hoyt’s justification of the Times failure to cover Winter Soldier on the grounds that they also did not cover “an announcement the following day by Vets for Freedom, a group supporting the war and claiming more than 13 times the membership of Iraq Veterans Against the War, the group which organized Winter Soldier,” draws a far-fetched parallel between a group presenting eyewitness testimony about atrocities in Iraq and a group releasing a press release about media bias. (As a group that often puts out press releases about media bias that don't get covered by the Times, the comparison strikes us as rather absurd.) Further, the size of IVAW and Vets for Freedom are not directly comparable, as IVAW is a group of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, whereas anyone can sign up on the Vets for Freedom website, which stipulates that “non-veterans can also be members of Vets for Freedom.”

Hoyt's claim that “news organizations like the Times, with its own substantial investment in independent reporting from Iraq, tend to prefer their own on-scene accounts of the war” is akin to asserting that reporters on the police beat prefer to write about crimes they have seen themselves rather than talking to eyewitnesses. Given that Times reporters, like all Western journalists in Iraq, have great difficulty travelling freely outside the Green Zone, it is hard to imagine that they could provide a full and accurate picture of the war without interviewing people who have participated in it. And of course the paper does often interview U.S. military personnel about what they've seen, though when they are whistleblowers trying to call attention to what they describe as "the human consequences of failed policy," the Times suddenly has much less interest in what they have to say.

The New York Times’ decision to assign one of its two available correspondents to tour with the Secretary of Defense instead of hearing the first-hand accounts of the Winter Soldiers demonstrates a very strange notion of “independent reporting.”

If America Tanks, Your Wallet Will HAve To Be The One To Tell You....

The great Kevin Phillips:
Rarely in U.S. history has a president, especially a two-term president, been so unpopular at a time when the Congress, captured in the midterm elections by the opposition, is held in no greater regard. In such a case, the norm is for the two to fight, with one side gaining the edge. But that has not been true of George W. Bush and the Democratic Congress elected by running against him in 2006.

The two sides have gone after each other in a fashion, but more often they have simply talked past each other to their separate party constituencies, repeating familiar commitments to keep the true believers on each side somewhat more contented than the unimpressed independents -- those who bulk so large in the 60 to 70 percent of voters convinced that the country is on the wrong track. Most office holders on both sides seem to rest easier if everyone stays away from uncomfortable themes, even ones in the headlines, like costly U.S. overreach in the Middle East; the reckless expansion of private debt, as well as the federal budget deficit variety; the new economic (and political) dominance of the financial sector; and the mounting probability that the nation will have to choose between desirable energy supplies and global warming measures. After all, what you can sidestep today might go away tomorrow.

True, the public is not impressed -- "no guts" and "living in a dream world" are frequently heard descriptions of politicians. However, most big party contributors tend to donate based on established relationships and sympathies or on nonideological desire for access, not on philosophical engagement. No parallel to the simultaneous public distaste for a president and his opposition Congress comes to mind, but then modern polling goes back only to the 1930s. Let me stipulate: despite the obvious salience of predicaments like oil, climate, the volatile dollar, run-amok debt and credit, the housing bubble, and imperial overinvolvement in the Middle East, I would be the last to say that any more than 5 to 10 percent of the electorate would favor a 2008 debate over American decline. Average voters do not.

In these matters, history does not merely urge caution; it demands skepticism -- and about both public attention and likely governmental achievement. It is necessary to consider two other symptoms of weak, even failed U.S. politics: the entrenchment in Washington of a staggering array of interest groups, which has engendered a soulless political dynamic of perpetually raising and dispersing campaign funds; and the further, bipartisan trend toward what can only be called a politics of inheritance and dynasty.

Money politics and entrenched interests

The English-speaking peoples, when filling in new lands, had a certain naviete about the power of entrenched interests and how these could be subdued by locating a political capital in a remote federal preserve far from the existing centers of (corrupting) urbanity and wealth. The capitals were thus located in backwaters at a time when geography trumped media (Washington, D.C., Ottawa, and Canberra); but today, those names have become shorthand in their respective electorates for (1) metropolitan areas with strikingly high (and recession-resistant) per capita incomes; and (2) hothouses of seething interest-group concentration where elected representatives, shedding whatever grassroots fealty they may once have possessed, often train to retire after ten or twelve years to triple or even quintuple their salaries by becoming lobbyists.

As an aspiring theorist four decades ago, I developed a belief that the realignments seen in U.S. presidential politics every generation or so had an (idealized) cleaning-up component. The victors, with a mandate of sorts from an annoyed electorate rearranged in new party coalitions, came to the capital city and purged it of the used-up elites of the crowd that had just been voted out. Some of that occurred after Thomas Jefferson's election in 1800, Andrew Jackson's in 1828, Abraham Lincoln's in 1860, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's in 1932.

At any rate, it didn't happen after the 1968 election, although Republicans held the White House for twenty of the next twenty-four years. And it certainly hasn't happened since. Congress and the White House have been in the hands of different parties two-thirds of the time since 1968, so the United States has progressed to a new kind of interest-group influence: the simultaneous entrenchment in Washington of the used-up, don't-want-to-go-back-to-Peoria elites of both major parties. This electoral duopoly is in turn protected by various state and federal election and campaign-finance laws that make it hard for new parties to take hold or flourish. It's not that there aren't differences between the parties; it's just that they are limited differences and ones often reflecting cultural polarization.

In the early 1980s, an American sociologist by the name of Mancur Olson published a book called The Rise and Decline and Nations. Its thesis was that decline comes because after many years of success, a nation's political and economic arteries get so clogged with special-interest groups that its life-giving circulation of ideas and elites is impaired. Countries that are beaten in wars and occupied receive a new lease on life because their old interest-group structures get uprooted. He dwelled on Britain, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, none successfully invaded or occupied over the last few centuries, as examples of impaired political and economic circulation. Olson misjudged the links between inflation and political failure, but his interest-group focus may have a partial utility in explaining political and governmental entrenchment and decline.

If one goes back and looks at the capital cities of the four previous leading world economic powers, in later eras attempts were made to divide, abandon, or relocate them. Capitals in both Rome and Spain were relocated -- in the fifth century A.D. the Roman capital moved to Ravenna, and Spain's for a while moved from Madrid to Valladolid. Concern about elites that were calcified and verging on permanence worried people then, too.

Parties and factions can also run out of creativity. British party politics was chaotic in the decades between the two world wars, which limited innovation and complicated any prospect of renewal. There is little more to be said for U.S. party politics in the early 2000s. The Republicans were discredited by eight years of failure in war, diplomacy, and fiscal honesty, and the Democrats won no laurel wreaths for effective opposition. Institutionally, the 180-year-old Democratic Party and the 150-year-old Republican Party have, over the last 40 years, uprooted themselves from what were their constituencies and allegiances as late as the 1960s.

Gone on the Democratic side is the southern and western geography of opposition to northeastern financial elites under the aegis of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. Instead, there is a new Democratic politics of new national elites -- financial, high-tech, and communications. The Republicans, in turn, have lost many of their old, post-Civil War northern and western constituencies and biases, turning to the South and the interior West and a combination of old-line northern business elites and the Sun Belt power structure so ascendant in the late twentieth century. For both parties, the bottom line is usually the same: the bottom line. Fund-raising. Money. Comparative rootlessness makes it easy.

American Initiative Still Lives -- And It Rocks!!


The story.

Only His Big Media Lovers And The Saint Really Think He's Any Sort Of Expert On Foreign Policiesl He's Not

War Room:
Arguably the most politically significant aspect to Tuesday's Senate testimony from Gen. David Petraeus and ambassador Ryan Crocker is the campaign angle -- John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will all get a chance to question Petraeus and Crocker directly.

But McCain is drawing interest this morning for what appears to be yet another in a series of mistakes about the basics in the Middle East.

For those who can't watch clips online, McCain asks Petraeus, "Do you still view al-Qaida in Iraq as a major threat?" The general responded, "It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was, say, 15 months ago." McCain said, "Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shiites all overall?" Petraeus answered, "No," and McCain quickly added, "Or Sunnis or anybody else."

I've watched the exchange a few times, and I keep coming to the same conclusion: By rhetorically asking if al-Qaida is a Shiite sect, McCain was once again demonstrating that he's confused about the terrorist group's religious background. He added, "Or Sunnis or anybody else" not to necessarily to clarify but to cover his bases -- he figures al-Qaida has to be affiliated with an Islamic tradition, even if he doesn't know which one.

Ilan Goldenberg added, "McCain did genuinely mix up Sunnis and Shi'a again ... Now, I know that there is a bit of gotcha going on here. But this man claims that his greatest qualification for the Presidency is that he understands foreign policy. But the differences between Sunni and Shi'a matter. They matter a lot! And this nasty habit of mixing it up just seriously needs to stop."

Indeed, I'd say it's the "nasty habit" that makes this morning's mix-up especially interesting. If McCain had consistently demonstrated a firm grasp of events in the Middle East, it'd be easier to overlook confusion over whether al-Qaida is Sunni or Shiite.

But therein lies the point. McCain has struggled with the basics more than once recently.

Add up his errors, and we see a Republican candidate whose problem is not with words but with facts.