Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Battle Plan: Sarah “Evita” Palin, The Muse of the Coming Police State

by Naomi Wolf, from Huffington Post (at www.huffingtonpost.com/naomi-wolf/the-battle-plan-ii-sarah_b_128393.html)

Please see my note following the article about how my own experience parallels hers and those of her fellow staff members.

You have to understand how things work in a closing society in order to understand "Palin Power." A gang or cabal seizes power, usually with an affable, weak figurehead at the fore. Then they will hold elections -- but they will make sure that the election will be corrupted and that the next affable, weak figurehead is entirely in their control. Remember, Russia has Presidents; Russia holds elections. Dictators and gangs of thugs all over the world hold elections. It means nothing. When a cabal has seized power you can have elections and even presidents, but you don't have freedom.

I realized early on with horror what I was seeing in Governor Palin: the continuation of the Rove-Cheney cabal, but this time without restraints. I heard her echo Bush 2000 soundbites ("the heart of America is on display") and realized Bush's speechwriters were writing her -- not McCain's -- speeches. I heard her tell George Bush's lies -- not McCain's -- to the American people, linking 9/11 to Iraq. I heard her make fun of Barack Obama for wanting to prevent the torture of prisoners -- this is Rove-Cheney's enthusiastic S and M, not McCain's, who, though he shamefully colluded in the 2006 Military Tribunals Act, is also a former prisoner of war and wrote an eloquent Newsweek piece in 2005 opposing torture. I saw that she was even styled by the same skillful stylist (neutral lipstick, matte makeup, dark colors) who turned Katharine Harris from a mall rat into a stateswoman and who styles all the women in the Bush orbit --but who does not bother to style Cindy McCain.

Then I saw and heard more. Palin is embracing lawlessness in defying Alaskan Legislature subpoenas --this is what Rove-Cheney, and not McCain, believe in doing. She uses mafia tactics against critics, like the police commissioner who was railroaded for opposing handguns in Alaskan battered women's shelters -- Rove's style, not McCain's. I realized what I was seeing.

Reports confirmed my suspicions: Palin, not McCain, is the FrankenBarbie of the Rove-Cheney cabal. The strategy became clear. Time magazine reported that Rove is "dialed in" to the McCain campaign. Rove's protégé Steve Schmidt is now campaign manager. And Politico reported that Rove was heavily involved in McCain's vice presidential selection. Finally a new report shows that there are dozens of Bush and Rove operatives surrounding Sarah Palin and orchestrating her every move.

What's the plan? It is this. McCain doesn't matter. Reputable dermatologists are discussing the fact that in simply actuarial terms, John McCain has a virulent and life-threatening form of skin cancer. It is the elephant in the room, but we must discuss the health of the candidates: doctors put survival rates for someone his age at two to four years. I believe the Rove-Cheney cabal is using Sarah Palin as a stalking horse, an Evita figure, to put a popular, populist face on the coming police state and be the talk show hostess for the end of elections as we know them. If McCain-Palin get in, this will be the last true American election. She will be working for Halliburton, KBR, Rove and Cheney into the foreseeable future -- for a decade perhaps -- a puppet "president" for the same people who have plundered our treasure, are now holding the US economy hostage and who murdered four thousand brave young men and women in a way of choice and lies.

How, you may ask, can I assert this? How can I argue, as I now do, that there is actually a war being ramped up against US citizens and our democracy and that Sarah Palin is the figurehead and muse for that war?

Look at the RNC. This is supposed to be McCain's America. But you see the unmistakable theatre of Rove's S and M imagery -- and you see stages eight, nine and ten of the steps to a dictatorship as I outlined them in The End of America. Preemptive arrest? Abusive arrest? "Newly released footage, which was buried to avoid confiscation, shows riot cops arresting and abusing a giant group of people for nothing."

Journalists were arrested – for reporting. Amy Goodman and ABC producers were arrested. Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake and others were forced to lie face down as armed agents tied their hands behind their backs. The riot police wore the black S&M gear of the Rovian fantasy life and carried the four foot batons cops carry in North Korea. All this is not John McCain's imagery or strategy: it is Karl Rove's.

In McCain-Palin's America, citizens who are protesting are being charged as terrorists. This means that a violent war had been declared on American citizens. A well known reporter leaked to me on background that St Paul police had dressed as protesters and, dressed in Black -- shades of the Blackshirts of 1920 -- infiltrated protest groups. There were also phalanxes of men in black wearing balaclavas, linking arms and behaving menacingly -- alleged "anarchists." Let me tell you, I have been on the left for thirty years and you can't get three lefties to wear the same t-shirt to a rally, let alone link arms and wear identical face masks: these are not our guys. Agent Provocateurs framing protesters and calling protest "terrorism" constitutes step ten of a police state:

"In what appears to be the first use of criminal charges under the 2002 Minnesota version of the Federal Patriot Act, Ramsey County Prosecutors have formally charged eigth alleged leaders of the RNC Welcoming Committee with Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism... [they] 7 1/2 years in prison under the terrorism enhancement charge which allows for a 50% increase in the maximum penalty."

"Paid, confidential informants... infiltrated the RNCWC on behalf of law enforcement. They allege that members of the group sought to kidnap delegates to the RNC, assault police officers with firebombs and explosives, and sabotage airports in St. Paul. Evidence released to date does not corroborate these allegations with physical evidence or provide any other evidence for these allegations than the claims of the informants. Based on past abuses of such informants by law enforcement, the National Lawyers Guild is concerned that such police informants have incentives to lie and exaggerate threats of violence and to also act as provocateurs in raising and urging support for acts of violence."

Under the Palin-Rove police state, you will see escalating infringements on your access to a free internet:

"Sarah Palin was baptized at Wasilla Assembly of God...Last Sunday our research team released a video, a ten-minute mini-documentary, focusing on the Wasilla Assemblies of God and the video seemed on the verge of a massive "viral" breakthrough when YouTube pulled it down, citing 'inappropriate content'. At the point the video was censored by YouTube it had been viewed by almost 160,000 people. The short of it is that YouTube has censored a video documentary that appeared to be close to having an effect on a hard fought and contentious American presidential election..."

Under the coming Palin-Rove police state, you will witness the plans now underway to bring Iraqi troops to patrol the streets of our nation. This is not McCain's fantasy: it is Rove's and Cheney's.

Under the Palin-Rove police state, there will be no further true elections. Mark Crispin Miller has done sensational and under-reported investigating t o establish that – as I warned – indeed the GOP staffers on the US Senate Judiciary Committee have been.

The evidence is also buried on the Website of the Majority House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

WASHINGTON -- Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media, Senate officials told The Globe. >From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003, members of the GOP committee staff exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted Democratic communications witho ut a password. Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight -- and with what tactics.

– "Senate panel's GOP staff spied on Democrats" By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff | January 22, 2004

Do you think that spying like this will ever end under a Palin-Rove regime? Dream on. If she and McCain are elected, then every single strategy memo and speech and debate prep note from every opposition candidate from now and on into forever will be read by the regime in power while it is still in the computers of the challengers.

Under the Palin-Rove police state, citizens will be targeted with state cyberterrorism. Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda, a former Reagan official, warned me three years ago that the Bush team went after a Republican who had crossed them through cyberstalking: they messed with his email, messed with his phones and I believe messed with his bank account -- he became a cyber-pariah, unemployable and haunted. With modern technology, there really is less place to hide from the state than there was in East Germany in the Cold War era. I remember feeling a chill: of course. That is the wave of the future once we breach the protections around citizens of FISA and the fourth amendment. That way lies the abyss for us all.

Am I trying to scare you? I am. I am trying to scare you to death and ask you to scare your Republican and independent friends most of all. How do you know when it is war on citizens? When there are mass arrests, journalists are jailed, the opposition is infiltrated, rights are stripped and leaders start to ignore the rule of law.

Almost everyone I work with on projects related to this campaign for liberty has been experiencing computer harassment: emails are stripped, messages disappear. That's not all: people's bank accounts are being tampered with: wire transfers to banks vanish in midair. I personally keep opening bank accounts that are quickly corrupted by fraud. Money vanishes. Coworkers of mine have to keep opening new email accounts as old ones become infected. And most disturbingly to me personally is the mail tampering I have both heard of and experienced firsthand. My tax returns vanished from my mailbox. All my larger envelopes arrive ripped straight open apparently by hand. When I show the postman, he says "That's impossible." Horrifyingly to me is the impact on my family. My childrens' report cards are returned again and again though perfectly addressed; their invitations are turned back; and my daughters many letters from camp? Vanished. All of them. Not one arrived. Try explaining that to a smart thirteen year old. Try explaining it in a way that still makes her feel secure and comfortable.

I am not telling you this because it's about my life. I am telling you this because it is about your life -- whoever you are, Conservative or Liberal, independent or evangelical. Your politics will not protect you in a police state. History shows that nothing portects you in a police state. This is not about my fear and anxiety: it is about what awaits you and everyone you love unless you see this for what it is:

Scharansky divided nations into "fear societies" and "free societies." Make no mistake: Sarah "Evita" Palin is Rove and Cheney's cosmetic re-branding of their fascist push: she will help to establish a true and irreversible "fear society" in this once free once proud nation. For God's sake, do not let her; do not let them.

My Note To Ms. Wolf’s Article

What Ms. Wolf and her fellow staff members have encountered directly parallels my own.

In April, 2005, I published an article, Washington’s Darkest Secret, which revealed that George Bush was told by George Tenet in early August, 2001, of hard intelligence that al Qaeda planned to attack the United States using airplanes as guided missiles. All Tenet did not know was the exact date, the specific targets or the names of the highjackers – which, it turns out, the FBI had in its files.

Following its initial publication and as I was working on a follow-up piece, my home was broken into and office files disturbed, phones were tapped, my e-mails interrupted and accounts were corrupted, snail mail arrived opened and the bank that held the mortgage on my home – which happens to own a federally-regulated US bank – tried to foreclose on a technicality. Only fast and fancy footwork by my lawyers stopped the bank in its tracks.

Everything she describes is not only happening to her, it is happening to other Americans, as well.

My Comrades-in-Journalism Are At Fault, Too

Already, there is a massive amount of finger pointing about who is to blame for yesterday’s failure of the rescue package in the House. Democrats blame Republicans, Republicans blame Democrats, dogs blame cats and vice versa. Alas, my former brothers and sisters toiling in business journalism’s verdant field must shoulder their share of the blame, not for yesterday’s vote but for not really covering what led to the need for such a vote.

So, to help former colleagues still covering business news for a living, I offer a few observations about the current financial crisis that may improve their coverage in the future because there are some inconvenient truths they need to face squarely and fix successfully.

The business media claims to cover business, and its reporters cover nothing more closely than Wall St. Your knowledge is what separates you from other beat reporter; it is why there is a business media. But the beat covered by many publications, reporters and editors has collapsed.

For business reporters, editors and producers, there are only two options when considering what happened, neither particularly pleasant.

Two Reasons

If you provided appropriate, arms-length scrutiny of the financial-services industry, including investigative work, opinion, analysis and rigorous beat reporting that provided decision-makers and readers with fair warnings of the coming collapse, the coverage was ignored by people who could have stopped it in time. Or, you didn’t do the job in the first place.

The answer is a complicated mix of the two. But that means the best case for the business media is that what it writes doesn’t matter or get read, so why bother?

It pains me to say so, but there was a failure of journalism in the Wall St. crisis, as big and devastating as journalism’s failure during the run-up to the Iraq war. Had reporters been digging through the underlying documents of credit swaps and the other convoluted financial products being created, my hunch is that a lot of the current problems might have been avoided as few of them could have withstood the bright light of public scrutiny.

Sadly, you did not do your job.

Best And Brightest

The current generation of business reporters is probably the best-educated and most sophisticated ever. Everyone knows they are entirely capable of providing the needed scrutiny and requisite scepticism, if properly directed. This didn’t happen so there is a leadership deficit in newsrooms.

True, business journalism has been thinned of its most experienced ink-stained wretches, as has happened on nearly every other major beat, thanks to the media’s financial troubles. Investigative reporting is a thing of the past. We all paid a price paid for this and it is another issue for editors and publishers to work through.

Business media outlets that claim to provide authoritative coverage of Wall Street during good times should be first in line for scrutiny now. These would include any publication with the words “wall” and “street” in its name, as well as anything named “deal,” “New York,” “business,” “investors” and, for that matter, “times” and “day.” For some reason, Bloomberg boasts of its supremacy in covering the markets that just blew up; it missed the story entirely. Oh well. By the way, the good folks at Business Week, Forbes and Fortune are culpable, as well.

Coming Criticism

Criticism of business publications and networks is harsh already and will get more biting. Much of the criticism will be unfair, driven by ignorance, opportunism and an anti-business bias on the left along with a congenital anti-journalism bias on the right. Some of it will be very fair.

On the other hand, as the messy process of finger-pointing begins, it is worth remembering that the bailout is only part of the hardship ordinary people are bearing for the financial services industry’s excesses. The first part comes in the yet-to-be-measured equity loss, not to mention mental anguish, borne by most of the four million people who lost their homes. Basically, the massive foreclosure crisis is simply a wholesale transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top. British and European newspapers and networks have done a better job of covering this in the US than have our own, home grown, media.

The second part is the extended recession we are entering. Millions of people will lose their jobs, their health care and their hope for the future. There is a lot of talk about “Main Street” but too little coverage of what is occurring to the people who read or watch your coverage yet live off of Manhattan Island.

Third is the losses suffered by pension and mutual funds from Wall Street’s sale of billions of dollars worth of defective and possibly fraudulent products. It will be hard for the business media to explain this, but it will be much harder for their readers who are seeing the value of their mutual funds, 401(k) plans, IRA’s and other savings schemes disintegrate before their eyes.

Falling Resources, Rising Responsibility

The last decade has seen a dramatic decrease in journalism’s resources, unfortunately occurring just as journalism’s responsibilities have increased.

The disemboweling of the SEC, the Office of Thrift Supervision, the Comptroller of the Currency, bank examiners, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Justice Dept. and other key federal agencies, piled more and more responsibilities on the press – responsibilities it did not recognize in time that it had and was not prepared to shoulder in any event.

At least three times since the turn of the 21st century, the only business activity so unique, special and important that it is specifically protected by the US Constitution, failed the country miserably: Reporting on what was in the Patriot Act, the lies being fed to the nation to trumpet the unnecessary Iraq war, and now the collapse of the financial sector.

These aren’t trivial matters; indeed, providing tough, independent, in-depth reporting on them is the reason journalism exists. But when owners, publishers, reporters, editors and producers collectively fail to do their job, our nation is less free and, in the case of the current crisis, a lot poorer.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Welcome To The Next Great Depression

Buddy, can you spare a Prozac? Oh, wait. This kind of depression won’t be cured with a pill. And a dime doesn’t buy as much today as it did in 1930.

Watching the House vote on a package to rescue the economy fall apart this afternoon was as traumatic as seeing Wall St. brokers leaping from windows in October, 1929 on the day of the great crash. Alright, so that never really happened but the metaphor is valid. And the tense, drawn looks on the faces of long-time Congressional correspondents as they reported the unfolding debacle told much more than they were saying: We’re in trouble, folks, and plenty of it.

I opposed early versions of the economic rescue plan. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s first cut was the financial version of the Patriot Act or the Iraq War resolution granting absurd power with no oversight. Even the second and third drafts were mostly a fat cat handout with not much given back in return to protect the country.

Yet the fact is while the final version voted down by the US House is a bad law, because it had reasonable safeguards and limits it is seriously better than no law at all.

Now, if Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner cannot get a handful of members in their respective caucuses to change their vote when the bill comes up again after Rosh Hashanah, we are all toast.

Brokers may not be leaping from ledges but US stocks, most commodities except precious metals, and oil are falling out the allegorical window. As the Dow plummeted 700 points, the Standard & Poor’s 500 – a much more reliable barometer than the Dow – was plunging by more than 8%, with 490 of the 500 companies that make up the index declining.

Look out below!

Car Loans, Credit Lines

It may take a few weeks for the real impact to rear its devastating head but some businesses already are feeling the effects of what amounts to a credit lockdown.

For 15 years, until my sister died of cancer in 1999, Steve was my brother-in-law. For at least that long, he’s run a reasonably successful small business. I mean really small: He is the only employee. But the business is profitable, generates a decent cash flow, he pays his bills and his credit score is squeaky clean.

I spoke with him this morning to see how things are going. Mostly, I wondered if Hank Paulson was telling the truth – that credit is approaching lock-down – or exaggerating. Turns out he’s not, and it may be the first time in the history of the Bush administration that a cabinet secretary is being honest with the nation.

“Two weeks ago, I leased a new truck to replace the old one,” Steve says of the vehicle that literally drives his business. “I’ve always leased them through the same bank we used for 20 years, and I always got cars and trucks for prime-plus-one (percent). When I called the bank for a new lease, they told prime-plus-two and a half. I was stunned and asked why, because I’ve been a good customer.

“They told me it’s only because I’ve been a good customer for so many years that they’re able to give me a lease at all, and I’m getting it at their best rate.”

He ended up getting a better rate through the manufacturer’s finance company and took it. But the truck was only his first surprise.

Last week, he renewed his revolving line of business credit which finances his inventory purchases. Steve’s had a $25,000 line for ages yet, when he called his account manager, he was greeted with astounding news.

“I’m sorry but we’re going to have to reduce your line to $15,000,” my former brother-in-law was told.

Again, he asked why and, again, he heard the same rationale.

“That we’re keeping it (the credit line) open at all is because you’ve been such a good customer and have an excellent credit score,” Steve says the apologetic banker explained. “Otherwise, we would have closed your line entirely.”

The Beginning

Steve will not be the only business owner in the country to get the same gloomy news over the next 10 or 15 days. Without a turnaround in the re-vote – if and whenever it comes –owners of one employee companies to the chief financial officers of Fortune 100 companies will be hearing the same thing.

Indeed, rates for commercial paper – how larger businesses finance operations – are skyrocketing making borrowing money for everything from inventory to payrolls to receivables incredibly expensive. When September and October unemployment figures are reported, sadly well after the election, we are likely to see a huge jump in the number of jobless. Layoffs beget more layoffs and terrify everyone still hanging on to a job.

So retailers depending on the holiday season for the bulk of their annual sales and profits will be facing disappointing news: The unemployed don’t have cash for gifts and those still working will be pulling in their wings to wait out the storm.

Property tax revenue around the country has already dropped as home values plunge so state and local government – in many regions, often the state’s largest employer – will be forced to cut back and lay off. Next, the Treasury will see corporate and personal tax collections decline sharply, as well, which means either borrowing even more money from China – which is already nervous about its US dollar exposure – or reducing programs to help the swelling ranks of the needy.

Thus, today’s inaction by the House may well spell the beginning of the start of Great Depression II. Since John McCain is already displaying all of the characteristics of Herbert Hoover, all that may save us is if Barack Obama turns out to be Franklin Roosevelt’s reincarnation.

Blame Game

And thus begins the blame game: Democrats blaming Republicans who are, truthfully, mostly at fault; Republicans blaming Democrats who, truthfully, share some of the blame; Dennis Kucinich blaming everyone; Bob Barr – is he still a presidential candidate? – blaming “government.” Eventually, everyone will blame everybody else and I’m sure that, with enough time, my friend Susan’s Daschundt Maxie will blame her two cats, Sasha and Evita. And vice versa.

Actually, there is a definite start date to this afternoon’s collapse and a specific person to blame.

Genuine blame for the reason a deal was needed, and fell apart can be traced to a tense night in December, 2000. The Supreme Court had just elected George Bush president by one vote. Congress was locked in a budget showdown with the outgoing Clinton administration. And a balding, bespectacled Phil Gramm strode onto the floor of the United States Senate the chilly evening of the 15th.

As Congress and the White House were hurriedly hammering out a $384-billion spending bill, Gramm quietly slipped in a 262-page amendment called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. He boasted to the gathered solons that his measure ensures that neither the SEC nor the Commodity Futures Trading Commission – soon to be chaired by Gramm’s wife – would regulate an incredibly complicated new financial product called swaps, Gramm all but said he saved Wall Street by "protect(ing) financial institutions from overregulation" and "position our financial services industries to be world leaders into the new century."

Even Nazi Germany’s Third Reich lasted a few years a longer than it took Wall St. to collapse under the weight of its own greed, hauling the global economy down with it in the bargain.

So here we sit, teetering on the edge of the precipice, wondering if our futures will be just grim or totally bleak while Washington scratches its bewildered head, calculating what to do next with the election looming a mere 39 days away.

Those who voted against the bill – a lethal combination of hard right Republicans and far left Democrats – may be gleeful this evening at their success. But it’s a fool’s folly to be happy about what the United States House of Representatives did today. How will they explain their decision to what will surely be the largest swelling of unemployment, homelessness and despair seen in their various districts since the 1930s?

McCain’s Gambling Past Rolls Craps

Guest post by Denis Campbell, editor of The Vadimus Post (www.vadimuspost.com)

“Daddy needs a new pair of shoes!” and the dice cubes fly.

John McCain loves craps. It is routine for him to wager and lose $25,000 in a session as to play the “suspend the campaign and return to Washington to save the Bailout” gambit or petulantly select an unknown for Vice President as the table runs hot. The problem is it’s also routine for him to become petulant, moody, churlish, angry and flash that fiery, scary temper when his luck runs cold.

Dice are funny. There’s nothing here but pure, dumb luck. A compulsive gambler will tell you, a hot dice run creates a sugar high bigger than any ten year old can imagine and… dark, erratic, moody behaviour where one tries to quickly recoup losses digging the hole deeper when they run cold. You are completely at the mercy of two clear red silicon composite boxes with painted white numbers.

Barack Obama plays poker, very well. Poker requires cool under pressure, patience, skill, discipline and an ability to play the man as well as your card hand. Poker players know when to hold, fold or push their chips all-in for the highest percentage advantage. Do it successfully and increase your winning percentage dramatically. The house never beats you. You beat yourself. And luck is something to use and respect.

I’m an improving poker player as well as political contributor to WPT (World Poker Tour) Magazine. It’s where those who like to play the game go to learn strategy from top experts and pros. I was asked to handicap aspects of the Presidential race and predict the odds of online gaming again becoming legal in the USA . New York Times reporters Jo Becker and Don van Natta, Jr. did an excellent job of tying John McCain and his lobbying buddies to Indian casino gaming.

Not as deeply reported is a piece of legislation that helped his casino buddies more than locations on certain reservations. John McCain and his lobbying pals eliminated their online competition, by making it illegal for any company to use the Federal Banking payment processing system to process Internet gaming transactions. It was buried deep in a shipping port security bill passed at midnight when Congress adjourned September, 2006 to return home and contest mid-term elections.

The Security and Accountability For Every Port Act of 2006 (or SAFE Port Act) had language inserted as Title VIII of the Act. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act prohibited the transfer of funds from a US financial institution to any Internet gambling site.

What, you might ask, do online poker and Internet gambling have to do with Port Security? Nothing, it was a brilliant legislative manoeuvre. They could rightfully defend it to colleagues by saying they did not make gambling online illegal, something they could never stop, so they focused on those trying to cash their winnings, so why bother?

“I’d call it the John McCain, Rick Davis, Jack Abramoff and Scott Reed Personal Enrichment Act” said a Republican Congressman defeated for re-election that year and who asked not to be named, “these guys were all in it up their eyeballs.” “It gave their Indian casino buddies free reign and made sure 95+% of all gaming occurred in their casinos,” he continued. Americans were thus forced to apply for foreign credit cards or work with international friends to transfer winnings.

All the act did was make the IRS’ job of tracing funds more difficult. Log on any evening to Party Poker, Full Tilt Poker or a dozen other sites and despite the language all use (except Party Poker) prohibiting US players or payments processed to US accounts, you will see major US city represented at 8-10% of the seats on their tables.

Congressman Barney Frank, (D-MA), Chairman of the House Banking Committee has been unable to move a bill deleting Title VIII language because of Republican filibuster threats. Professional poker players in the USA , people who make their living playing and representing the game testified before his committee on this unlawful restraint of their trade. The gaming lobby has kept this from coming to a vote, led by John McCain, Scott Reed and Rick Davis.

Last week I had a lengthy interview with Russell Means’, head of the Lakota Indian Nation that withdrew from all Treaties with the US Government in December of last year. He is running to become the Chief of the Sioux Tribe in Pine Ridge, an election where, he said, “two years ago, despite having only about 2,700 registered voters, more than 4,000 paper ballots were cast, counted and certified (despite the tribal court ruling it was indeed a fixed election), by the Tribal Council and Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

Until now, no one has cared. Indian gaming and the control of Reservations by the BIA has kept them dirt poor, dependent and under the control of John McCain’s friends. (More to come later this week in the full Means interview).

So the tiniest bit of the light has crept on to the Indian gaming scene. We will throw the door open and watch the cockroaches scatter into the woodwork shadows. This story about Indian gaming and election rigging is just the tip of the exploitation iceberg. What lies under the surface is very damaging indeed.

Senator McCain, you may have, as you said in the debate the other evening, fought earmarks. Unfortunately your inner lobbyist and gambling demons are much harder to slay than saying “thanks but no thanks to that bridge to nowhere.”

“It’s 7-out, line in, Senator” You just lost your money to the house.

Sarah Palin’s Feminine Wiles Fall Short

A guest post from Sharon Lyle, publisher of the LA Progressive e-newsmagazine at www.laprogressive.com

Shortly after the Katie Couric-Sarah Palin interview, a slew of reports hit the Internet assessing the VP candidate’s performance. Try as I might, I was hard pressed to find a single report that looked favorably on Palin’s delivery. Slate’s Christopher Beam said that Palin resembled, “a high-schooler trying to BS her way through a book report.” New York Times reporter Bob Herbert said “the idea that the voters of the United States might install someone in the vice president’s office who is too unprepared or too intellectually insecure to appear on, say, “Meet the Press” or “Face the Nation” is mind-boggling.” He then likened the election of Palin to “putting an unqualified pilot in the cockpit of a jetliner.

So when I watched the Palin-Couric interview, I wasn’t completely surprised to see Palin fumbling. I suspected this would surface sooner or later. Why else would the McCain campaign shield her from the media for so long? Just two days earlier when Palin was to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, campaign aides told reporters they could not go into the meetings but the photographers and video camera crew were invited in. When a couple of major news outlets reportedly threatened to remove their camera crews altogether, campaign spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt was quoted as saying the reporter ban was a miscommunication.

Still, when watching the events of that day on CNN and MSNBC and reading about them in other media, it was impossible to get a grasp of the dialogue exchanged between Palin and Karzai or any of the other foreign leaders she met that day. The average citizen is still left wondering — who is Sarah Palin?

But as I sat through more of the interview with Couric, Palin’s ability to stay on point was even worse than I’d imagined. Couric seemed to rattle Palin, zooming in on hard-hitting questions while staring with a blank face — looking directly and unwaveringly at Palin as she stumbled and bumbled to find a coherent answer. Palin squirmed in her seat as an apparent uneasiness seemed to rise from within but Couric refused to offer up a smile or a nod. While watching this exchange, it occurred to me that maybe the problem was that one of Palin’s tools was rendered ineffective with Couric.

The Alaskan Governor is an attractive woman – perhaps she is adept at using her charm and beauty to distract from other possible shortcomings. Couric didn’t seem to be biting and Palin was clearly operating outside of her comfort zone.

To see if I was on to something with this theory, I went to YouTube and replayed the Palin interview with Charles Gibson of ABC, carefully observing the way she handled Gibson. Within the first 7 or so minutes into day 1 of the first interview, Sarah Palin addressed Charles Gibson as “Charlie” no less than five times. At one point, when they were on the grounds of her home in Alaska, she touched his arm. These are subtle gestures that can easily be dismissed as personal style but when compared to the way she interacted with Katie Couric, I’m not so sure. In replaying the Couric interview, I never heard Palin refer to Couric as “Katie”. Theirs was a strictly professional exchange and this did not seem to work in Palin’s favor.

According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, “ 62 percent of men questioned have a favorable opinion of the Alaska governor, nine points higher than women.” The poll also indicated that there is a gender gap when it comes to whether Palin is qualified to serve as president. Fifty-seven percent of male respondents said Palin was qualified, 14 points higher than women. I don’t doubt the McCain camp chose Palin for this very reason.

In a piece entitled, “Desperately Searching for Sarah,” NBC National Journal Reporter Carrie Dann asserts that web searches say something about what we really want to know. NBC News uses an online research company, Hitwise, to compile and analyze what people are searching for on the web. According to Dann, “Palin” searches caused web traffic to spike to almost 30 times that of any other candidate by the date of Palin’s convention speech.

Dann says volume fell almost as quickly as it rose but added that searches containing the keywords “Sarah Palin legs”, “Sarah Palin Vogue”, and “Sarah Palin sexy photos” have outranked searches for legitimate policy positions such as earmarks investigation since Palin entered the race. Dann claims that NBC believes that what people search for says a lot about how the campaigns are making their message stick. I don’t know what the Palin searches say about the message the McCain campaign is sending but it seems to say something about how a large percentage of men are thinking.

But, although the polls indicate that Palin is favored by men, it is not all men. Even conservatives such as George Will are saying enough is enough. Fareed Zakaria has asked that she step down and Jack Cafferty’s exasperation over the spector of a Palin presidency can only be given justice by providing you with the video to watch for yourself (see below).


So this takes us to the question of how Palin will handle next Thursday’s debate. Next Thursday, the debate will be moderated by veteran journalist Gwen Ifill. A couple of months ago, there were some who were disgruntled that Ifill had been relegated to moderate the VP debate and not one of the presidential debates considering her senior status and exemplary performances at moderating in the past. But now, I have to admit, it makes me smile just thinking of Gwen Ifill sitting in the moderator seat on Thursday.I predict, that unlike John McCain who avoided eye contact with Barack Obama, Sarah Palin won’t avoid making eye contact with Joe Biden. She knows where her strength lies and she’ll invite it. It gives her an edge over her opponent that all attractive women sense. Biden will be in a precarious position but I trust that he’s up to the task. This Thursday’s debate will be a dance of balance. Biden doesn’t need to sit and memorize talking points but he will have to be mindful that this is not the typical debate.

What’s important to Palin is that she feel comfortable enough to not make a complete fool of herself on this, one of the most watched debates in the history of television, debating a man who has more experience dealing in the matters of foreign policy than she has in every aspect of her life. She is going to need to draw strength from being able to use her charm.

She will likely not avoid looking into Biden’s eyes but looking at Ifill, now that is another thing altogether. We’ll all watch and see how that works for her.

I, like millions of other Americans, will be there watching taping and watching again as this monumental time in American history gets played out.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Note To Keith: Robert Rector Is Today’s Worst Person In The World

It never occurred to me that being on food stamps because you’re too poor to feed your family is unhealthy. But Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation knows it is and thinks we should starve the wretches into submission.

Rector says food stamps are not helping the poor, claiming that, "The majority of them are overweight, and the idea of what we need to do is give them more food is just kind of silly.”

The ungrateful fat bastards don’t know how good they have it.

But, uhm, maybe if they are overweight as you say, it’s because about all that people on food stamps can afford are low cost, starchy-but-filling foods like Kraft mac-and-cheese dinners. Not much room for fresh fruits and vegetables on the lush $5.80 per person food stamp daily allotment. Anyway, he has other reasons for starving the poor.

"It’s a counterproductive program because it still rewards people for not working and these programs have an anti-marriage bias. (T)he family gets more from the program if a working father isn’t in the home,” Rector snorts with Victorian self-righteousness.

“Most poor children in America today are, in fact, super-nourished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II,” he huffs disapprovingly, supporting his Worst Person nomination.

Of course, Rector neglects to mention that, on average, everybody is taller and heavier today than the generation that fought World War II 60+ years ago. We also live longer which, for Rector, is probably reason enough for not providing universal health care although I bet he has other arguments supporting illness for the poor. Maybe something along the lines of “when they’re in charity hospital beds, they’re not sleeping on the streets or in squalid tenements.”

So much for whatever is left of “compassionate conservativism.”

Hunger Crisis

There is a hunger crisis in America that mulyuks like Rector must believe is a good thing.

For months, the number of people on food stamps has been increasing steadily. In June, it hit 28.6-million, according to government figures, and rising. With any luck – unless people like Rector or John McCain put a stop to it – the US will enjoy the disgrace of seeing the same number of hungry citizens on food stamps as those with no health insurance.

The only other time so many Americans used food stamps was in late 2005, when huge numbers of people needed emergency help after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Food stamp eligibility is based on income. Households with no income receive the most benefits. Households with incomes at 130% percent of the federal poverty line – a household of three making $22,900 a year – get the least benefits.

Changes making more households eligible for benefits come after new federal legislation takes effect Wednesday. For the first time, people will be able to deduct child care costs when calculating their income and they will not be penalized for having retirement accounts, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.

Additionally, the standard deduction on the food stamp application will be indexed for inflation. The minimum benefit increases to $14 from $10 per month, also indexed for inflation. As one expects from the government, there is a complicated formula for calculating benefit eligibility. As a result, experts and recipients said the increase many will see in benefits is needed because food stamps are not enough to get by on.

Dottie Rosenbaum, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told McClatchy newspapers the complicated formula that determines how much money people receive has a maximum benefit of $1.60 per meal per person. That lush sum might cover the cost of a bowl of cereal, more than enough for the poor, the wretched, the huddled masses according to folks like Rector.

"But that’s not what most people get," Rosenbaum calculates. "They get close to a dollar and a quarter a meal."


Hang The Cheatin’ Bastards!

Whew! And here I thought we were wasting taxpayer money. Still, I wonder why $1.25 per meal per person is a scandal but $700-billion for Wall St. will save the global economy. It’s the same logic banks use: Wealthy people who don’t need money get loans easily while those without resources are shooed away like buzzing flies in the sticky, August heat.

Many food stamp recipients say they get extra meals from food pantries and church dinners. Rector’s reaction is probably “hang the cheatin’ bastards, hang ‘em high!”

Making matters worse, food prices are spiking and there’s the nettlesome problem that wages have been sagging for decades.

The Agriculture Dept. reports food prices rose 6.1% this month over last September, the steepest increase in two decades. Meanwhile, from the early 1980s to now, the income of the nations richest grew 62% while wages of the poorest grew only 21% percent including the cash value of food stamps, giving the needy a lofty $143 annual bump in purchasing power over the same 20 years.

I’ll save you the math: This works out to 43-cents a day.

Only Rector and maybe Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, the millionaire former Clinton backer with countless homes on several continents who now supports McCain because Obama is “elitist,” would argue that an extra 43 pennies a day is too rich for the lumpen proletariat.

Paging Marie Antoinette!

Back To Reality

Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, the landmark CBS Reports did an extended series of documentaries on the problems of hunger in America, beginning with the award winning Harvest of Shame. In 1968, Robert Kennedy built much of his presidential campaign around the problems of the country’s countless poor, working poor and disadvantaged.

The reality is that, forty years later, we remain the hungriest rich nation on earth.

Every night, nearly 30-million people including close to 20-million children go to bed hungry. Parents are deciding between buying food for their children or paying for heat; between finding enough spare change around the house to buy milk for their kids and finding enough spare change for bus fare to get to work; between listening to the cries of their hungry youngsters and listening to the braying of donkeys like Robert Rector.

In Somalia, the UN flies in huge planes stuffed with bags of food, much of it provided by the US. Why can’t America airlift bags of food to its own hungry, downtrodden citizens?

How can one nation produce tens of millions of hungry Americans as well as the strident – dare I say “elitist?" – crapola of men like Robert Rector, today’s worst person in the world.

There Was Only One Paul Newman

Paul Newman was one of the last two greats of his generation. Now, only Clint Eastwood remains.

He trained in the method style with Lee Strasberg. In the beginning, he was criticised for being a mini-Marlon Brando. He was a bit younger than Brando, who was the big star. But Newman moved away from that, establishing his own style. In the end, he wasn't a second anybody: He was Paul Newman.

Undoubtedly, he is one of the Top 10 all-time great movie stars. I’m not quite sure where, but he was a great star. But unlike many great stars, though, Newman was a very good actor. He was also extraordinarily good-looking, with eyes a remarkable shade of bright blue, but his looks got in the way of people appreciating his acting ability until much later in his life.

They assumed he was just a pretty boy and didn't take him seriously. Maybe that's why he was nominated for so many Oscars without winning. In fact, he was a damn good actor.

True, in some of his early films he got by on his looks – but not in the ones that counted. If you watch Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), a very good actor is emerging.

The film everyone's going to remember him for is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, because it was one of the great Westerns. But I think his best performances were in Cool Hand Luke (1967) and The Hustler (1961). The great thing about Newman's acting was that he became the character he was playing. But, at the same time, there were always those Paul Newman qualities.

He appeared on the screen and you warmed to him at once. It didn't matter what kind of part he was playing. Even in Road to Perdition (2002) or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), when he was playing louts, as soon as he appeared on the screen you warmed to him – and that was God-given.

There was something that exuded from him: Personality, charisma, whatever. That is an enormous asset for any actor and precious few of our “stars” today have what Newman brought to every role.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Morning After The Night Before’s Debate

Living in the Eastern Time zone, it was well after midnight before I got to bed after watching the debate and flipping the dial to see what the Commentariat would pronounce as post-debate truth, wisdom, justice and The American Way.

As usual, all of the pundits got it all wrong: Most called it a draw, at best, but a sampling of five snap polls from media outlets across the political spectrum reveal that actual voters call it a clear Obama win:

Obama McCain
CNN 51% 38%
CBS 39% 25%
NBC 52% 33%
Wall Street Jrnl 58% 39%
NY Daily News 68% 32%

In looking at my notes this morning – handwritten on a tablet of paper, betraying my age; no laptop or BlackBerry’s around here – one of my first observations was that it sure looked as if Obama was getting to McCain. Right from the start, McCain seemed to be really pissed off and plastered a smarmy grin on his face to disguise seething anger and the barely-beneath-the-surface famous temper that appeared as soon as Obama went after him. I made this same note several more times: Every time Obama came back with one of his “You’re just wrong, John” retorts, McCain’s grimace got tighter and his eyelids started fluttering faster than an old Navy hand dashing out urgent messages in Morse Code.

While we almost saw a public airing of McCain’s well-known temper, he dug his fingernails into the podium and kept his cool except John’s face kept betraying his emotions.

Grumpy Old Man

As for the debate, the simple matter is McCain needed to land direct blows and leave Obama staggering. He didn’t. Instead, after a horrid two or three weeks on everything from how he handled the economic meltdown to the Sarah Palin interviews to his grandstanding at The White House that blew up in his face, the overriding impression McCain left was of a grumpy old man who’s not the World’s Greater Foreign Policy Authority Ever he’s been claiming to be; instead, he looked more like the Wizard of Oz by mispronouncing the name of Iran’s president and getting the name of Pakistan’s president completely wrong.

Odd, since he constantly name dropped all of the names of every world leader’s he’s met, as if proximity bestows knowledge. Well, over the years I’ve met and sometimes even had dinner with world leaders, too, men such as Lech Walesca, Boris Yeltsen, Zhu Rongji, JFK, Nelson Mandela, Bobby Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey and a handful of others. But that doesn’t make me an authority on anything other than their ability to chat amiably with a stranger for an hour or two and, in some cases, their table manners.

Moreover, his dancing around the economy – including at least one brazen lie – only buttressed his http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=zsKEIAS_F0s> YouTubed admission that he knows nothing about economics. In fact, all he did was keep repeating his Fleece-o-nomic policies, as reader David Ray dubbed it in an e-mail to me.

Even worse, my notes show that there were times when McCain babbled incoherently, mixing thoughts and messages with gleeful abandon. In answering a question about how the Wall St. bailout would help average Americans, he started talking about workers, exports and imports. Huh?

Behind The Lines

I didn’t bother watching the predictable “interviews” with loyalists from either side in Spin City. Instead, to get a read on what the campaign’s are really thinking, I waited until this morning and called friends working on the campaigns to hear what the two campaigns really think about what went right, what went wrong and why.

On Chicago’s North Side, I awaken a one-time colleague who now works for Obama and is part of the group providing insight and information into both campaigns for me. It takes a long time for him to answer because, he tells me in a groggy voice once he fumbles the phone to his head and mumbles, “Huh? What?” there was some serious partying after the debate ended.

“There was a real sense that Barack got through to people who don’t know much about him,” I learn, hearing his lighter fire up the first morning cigarette in the background.

I tell him about the overnight snap poll results.

“Shit, that’s better than we thought we did!” he exclaims, coming to full alertness now despite what he admits is a viscous hangover. “I left before our own polls came in.”

What about pundits saying Obama was too polite, and agreed too much with McCain, I ask.

“That’s Barack. It’s how he works. If he agrees with someone, he’ll say so. If he disagrees, he spells out why,” adding that the polling I just mentioned confirms that while media bloviators may not really “get” Obama, voters do.

Meanwhile, In A Land Far Away ...

In the Washington suburbs, not far from the Alexandria, Virginia headquarters of the McCain camp, the mood is very different.

“He (John) didn’t get blown away but he didn’t seem to make any headway, which is what he had to do,” is the verdict of another friend who is helping me cover the election for a book I want to write. “Our internals were mixed. Supporters said John won, but only about 58% of them. Independents gave the debate to Obama, 60-40.”

That doesn’t sound good, I observe.

“We needed to level the field last night and we didn’t,” is the somewhat rueful-sounding answer.

After a long silence, he says, “Believe it or not, our next, best hope is Thursday (the night of next week’s vice presidential debate). The expectations of Sarah are so low at this point, it’ll be a good night as long as she doesn’t fart or belch on air.

“And we’re counting on Biden to come across as condescending or make one of his famous gaffes.”

Hoping the vice presidential nominee doesn't burp loudly in public doesn’t sound like very much on which to hang the hopes of a presidential campaign.

Friday, September 26, 2008

“McCain Has Become A Walking Disaster.”

“As a candidate, John (McCain) has become a walking disaster,” the distraught voice calling from a Washington suburb told me late Thursday night. “As much as I once believed in him, now I’m really worried he’ll be a disaster as president. Maybe even worse than Bush, if that’s possible.”

The voice belongs to an old friend, someone I’ve known since the days when I lived in Chicago about 100 lifetimes ago.

Since the primaries, my pal has been on the staff of McCain’s campaign. For much of the campaign season, he and another long-time friend connected with the campaign – a woman I dated for a while when we both lived on the West Coast – have been providing me information about life inside the not-so-Straight Talk Express for a book I plan to write after the election. (Three friends inside the Obama campaign are doing the same thing.)

It’s almost midnight on Thursday, Sept. 25, and we’ve been speaking for nearly 45 minutes – I noted the time because he returned my call just as CBS News’ chief Washington correspondent and Face the Nation moderator Bob Schieffer was coming on The Daily Show to promote his new book.

In exchange for their cooperation, I promised each that nothing they said, or copies of documents and e-mails they provided me, would be published prior the election. But with the news events of the past week and McCain’s increasingly erratic comments and reaction to the economic crisis, on Wednesday I asked each if I could use some of what they’ve told or gave me now for an article. My former girlfriend agreed at once; my friend from Chicago took a day to think about it before calling me last night.

“It’s so bad around (the campaign), I’m thinking of resigning,” he continues. “McCain seems to have lost his way, Rick (Davis, McCain’s campaign manager) is making bad decisions because he’s desperate. I don’t know who made the Palin selection, maybe John but who knows, but she’s turned out to be a nightmare. Did you see her (Katie) Couric interview? Meanwhile, everybody’s running in 10 different directions trying to figure out some way to reverse the (poll) numbers.”

He adds sadly that internal polling shows McCain in even more trouble that the public polls reveal “because our core supporters are starting to question his judgement.”

My friend has been my access to and interpreter of the conservative movement since around the time of the Reagan years. Now, for the first time in the decades that I’ve known him, he sounds dispirited, dismayed and disappointed.

But mostly he sounds betrayed: “This isn’t what I signed on for.”

Throwing Dead Cats

The woman who was once my lover is working in a campaign office in one of the key swing states. She sounds no less dejected, perhaps reflecting the views of voters. “In the beginning, the office was jammed with people showing up to help every day. Now, there are some days when you can throw a dead cat and not hit a volunteer, there are so few of them.”

Why, I asked her on Thursday morning. Why are people who should be excited about their candidate losing their enthusiasm?

“Who knows?” I’m told in the throaty, Kathleen Turner, whiskey voice that’s played havoc with my libido across the decades. “Different reasons for different people. Mostly, though, I think it’s because he’s come across this week as indecisive, not knowing the facts, not appearing to be in touch. I suppose voters see that as not caring. Whatever. The faithful are losing faith.”

She points to McCain telling a television interviewer that he hadn’t read Treasury’s three page bailout plan a day or two after it was e-mailed to the road warriors – the travelling campaign staff – as a prime example.

“I sat there watching him and thinking to myself, ‘This isn’t happening,’” she recalls when we spoke for the second time yesterday. “Even if he didn’t read it, I can’t believe that somebody didn’t give him one or two talking points to use in a Q-and-A. He had to know it would come up.”

What about his decision to “suspend” the campaign to return to Washington?

“Nothing’s been ‘suspended,’” she replied. “We (people in the office) heard about it when a reporter called, hours later.

“Listen,” she goes on, working up a real head of steam. “At first I thought I was a brilliant political move. Take charge. Get in front of an issue he’s been behind on for two weeks. But then he lied to Letterman which turned John into a punch line. Turns out he stayed in New York to give a couple more speeches, met with a few donors, and took 22 hours to mosey down to Washington. Christ, an Amtrak local stopping in every village, hamlet and burgh doesn’t take that long.

“Overnight, he went from acting like a leader to appearing to be an opportunistic liar. Voters remember that kind of shit, especially the undecided.”

Saving John’s Ass

It’s now Friday morning and my friend in Virginia is calling from his cell phone en route to the office. The traffic noise is drowning him out so he closes the car window.

“The morning papers are blaming John for the bailout plan tanking,” he says. “Why the fuck didn’t he stay on the campaign trail and be getting ready for the debate? I’ve had 15 texts already on my BlackBerry … “

The one John invented, I interrupt asking in jest.

“Jesus fucking Christ, whatever made him say that?” my friend grumbles bitterly, referring to a conference call on Sept. 16 with reporters where economic advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin gave McCain credit for inventing the ubiquitous device. “Yeah, that one. Anyway, now people are trying to figure out how to pull John’s ass out of the fire.

“Go to the debate, don’t go debate. And what kind of a plausible explanation will play well for whatever he does.”

There’s a brief pause as my friend curses at someone cutting him off to run a red light on Wisconsin Ave.

“What McCain did was back himself into a corner. A politician never does that. Can you imagine Reagan or Clinton doing something so idiotic? If he doesn’t go, he looks bad because Obama will be debating an empty chair. If he goes, the last two days come across looking like a stunt.

“How do we save him from himself?”

How did the head office react at McCain’s announcement to suspend his campaign?

“Some people thought it was a brilliant way to finesse Obama, some thought it was a disaster waiting to happen, some just shrugged and went for coffee,” I’m told. “I mean, John’s on YouTube saying he doesn’t understand the economy and now he’s going to fix the most complicated piece of legislation in decades?”

I remind my buddy that Barney Frank described McCain’s action as “the Hail Mary of Hail May passes in the history of hails and the history of Mary.”

“There was a one-in-10 chance it might have worked,” he concedes ruefully, “and it still might. But so far, John has not been smelling exactly like roses.”

The campaign knew there were serious risks from the moment McCain and Davis came up with the idea, I’m told. For one thing, they thought they’d pushed Obama into a corner and he finessed his way around the manoeuvre. Then, they convinced a very reluctant White House to host a “summit meeting” which turned into a dog’s breakfast because the GOP went from backing a bi-partisan plan to tossing a totally new proposal on the table – hours after Republicans appeared at a joint news conference to announce a basic deal.

“I heard the Cabinet Room meeting went ballistic when Boehner said, ‘No deal, try this,’” he tells me. “Even the president was taken aback. Things got so rough, he had to shout to get some order in the room. Treasury and the Fed were pleading with Boehner not to screw things up at such a late hour.”

In fact, Politoco.com is reporting this morning that, after the meeting adjourned, Democrats went into the Roosevelt Room for a private discussion. Treasury Secretary Paul Paulson followed them and, on bent knee, begged Nancy Pelosi to keep her party on board. “I didn’t know you were Catholic,” Pelosi shot back, referring to Paulson’s genuflecting.

Apparently, someone saved McCain’s ass because by 11.30 EDT today, Politico was reporting that McCain announced he would, indeed, participate in tonight’s debate. As my two friends understood, Republicans realised the “debate later” concept was hurting McCain's campaign, and that he would look terrible if he didn't attend the debate while Obama sat alone onstage, answering Jim Lehrer’s questions.

The Other Shoe

Meanwhile, I’m told that many in the campaign seem to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Just before sending this article off, I received calls from both of my sources. While relieved that McCain has regained a bit of common – and political – sense, they’re each worried about what might happen next.

Lehrer has said that despite the foreign policy theme for tonight’s debate, he intends to open with questions about the economy and crisis on Wall St. Both McCain and Palin have looked bad on the issue since it broke. Polls show the nation already believes – by nearly 20 points – that Obama is better suited to fix the economy so anything McCain says will be measured from that perspective by viewers.

“It’s going to be hard for my guy to recover from what people already think about him,” The Voice tells me from her office. Adds my friend stuck in DC traffic, “I’m hoping he can run downfield and catch his own Hail Mary pass.”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Congress Passes Wall Street Relief Act of 2008

At a news conference held a short time ago, a bi-partisan claque of Congressional leaders stood before cameras to declare, “We have a bailout!” Let the puff of white smoke rise from the Capitol’s chimney.

Except none of them said exactly what is in the deal. How much money are we putting on the table? What kind of controls, other than some vague comments about an “oversight” group, is written into the measure? How much will compensation of Wall Street CEOs and other executives be regulated? Will besieged, hard pressed, home owners be spared from mortgage defaults and repossessions?

Who, besides Wall Street barons, will benefit from The Wall Street Relief Act of 2008?

Most importantly, since Hank Paulson – Goldman Sach’s $34-million a year guy at Treasury and a true man of Wall Street – is going bail us all out of the financial disaster visited upon us by Wall Street, exactly how will we know to whom he’s handing out our money, on what terms and at what price?

Details, son, just details. Mere trifles.

Trust us, they proclaimed solemnly. This is a good deal. We’ve saved America from disaster.

Trust us, the Congressional leadership said this afternoon, overlooking the fact that these were basically the same people who said “trust us” when they passed the (un)Patriot Act, the Iraq War resolution and the authorization for the NSA (and God only knows who else) to spy on all of us.

Once again, Congress drank the George Bush Kool-Aid. After all, he stood in the White House last night and used words like “Great Depression” and “panic” and calamity. So, Congress rolled over on its back and did the bidding of a man who us believed by less than 20% of America.

If you're ready to buy this deal from a trusted used war salesman like George W. Bush, his cronies on Wall Street and the panicky leaders of Congress then, as Joe Galloway said, I have a deal for you on a bridge to nowhere.

UPDATE: Sarah Palin: Witchcraft Free At Last!

After scouring the world's newspapers, I finally found one with front page coverage of Muthee-Palin witchcraft story. Unfortunately for American voters, it's in the United Kingdom's The Guardian:


Sarah Palin: Witchcraft Free At Last!

I’ve finally found a positive quality Sarah Palin might bring to the vice presidency: She would be the first veep guaranteed to be witchcraft-free, thanks to Rev. Thomas Muthee.

This would be a refreshing change from Dick Cheney who clearly is a warlock; it’s one of the few things that can explain adequately his darker-than-the-night eight years in office.

A video went up on YouTube yesterday showing Muthee imploring Jesus to protect Palin from "the spirit of witchcraft." It would be hysterical if it weren’t so scary.

Best of all, Palin gave her own personal testimony to the power of Muthee’s prayers, saying publicly after she was elected governor what a dramatic effect he had on her election.

While maybe it’s time we have a vice president we know is free of witches and witchcraft, there’s a serious point being made here.

After the broadcast and cable network newscasts pelted us for days with the same 14 second clip of Rev. Jeremiah Wright giving a vitriolic sermon when Barack Obama wasn’t even in the church, why is it that we’ve barely seen Rev. Muthee laying his hands on Palin to protect her from witches – or her “testimony” in the Wasilla church to his purported power?

Why isn’t the footage leading every cable news segment, the way the Wright video did? Where are the bloviators speculating that this might end her chance of being elected, as they did with Obama? Why isn’t she giving a major speech to discuss witchcraft in American politics the way Obama responded to the Wright controversy by talking about race in America? How come no one is calling the video a “bombshell,” and wondering “what might come next?”

When the Rev. Wright controversy broke, somber publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post gave it front page prominence. I’ve yet to see any coverage of the Muthee-Palin nonsense anywhere in either paper, not even a few column inches way in the back, wedged between wedding announcements and the obits.

Maybe it’s because the Muthee business is so ridiculous the video almost comes across like a Saturday Night Live sketch. Or a parody of an SNL bit. Maybe it’s because the news media doesn’t poke fun at the mentally unbalanced.

But, still, this is noteworthy stuff.

It can’t be that newspapers, magazines and networks “got religion” – pardon the expression – and turned serious in the months since the Wright tempest in a teapot bubbled and boiled. Rather, I suspect it’s because we’re seeing a prime time, front page, living, breathing, spell-casting example of just how frightened much of the media is of the right, and the religious right in particular. We’re also seeing the myth of the “liberal media bias” laid bare.

Mary Todd Lincoln and Nancy Reagan communed with the spirit world when their husbands were president, but neither woman ever ran for election. Sarah Palin wants to be Vice President of the United States.

Come to think of it, if she and McCain happen to win it might just be because there are witches and warlocks flying around on broomsticks after all. So much for the power of prayer. Still, I can't help wonder if religious "re-education" centers are too far behind.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Bailout: The Really Small Print Is Really, Really Scary

Assuming that the Bush-Paulson Wall St. bailout gets changed drastically by the time it’s passed, we can all tip our hat to Mother Jones. With everyone on the Hill screaming about the power grab Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is trying to engineer, the magazine’s Nomi Prins deserves a deep thanks for noticing the really, really, teeny tiny, fine print in what Treasury sent to the House and Senate.

Prins alone seems to have discovered that the barely-discussed Sec. 6 of the newly-named Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, creates a never-ending bailout with the key phrase, "The Secretary's authority to purchase mortgage-related assets under this Act shall be limited to $700,000,000,000 outstanding at any one time." (Italics added)

What “at any one time” means when it’s not raining is simply this: If whatever the taxpayers buy turns out to be worth zero, nada, nothing, zip, then Ol’ Hank, Wall Street’s best friend in Washington, can buy up another $700-billion worth of junk to give the banks a second helping at the public trough. And so on ad nauseum until the public is left holding an expensive, empty sack while banks, insurance companies and other bailed out lenders profit from the crème de la crème they keep in their portfolio.

I’d love such a sweet deal! Who wouldn’t? No wonder financial services lobbyists – never shy before in publicly pleading for Congressional relief from this or that – have kept their mouth shut on the bailout.

Know something?

The TARP they’re trying to cover us with is misnamed; it should be called HAPASWEAT, short for the Hank Paulson Sweater because he wants to give us a warm and cozy feeling as he pulls the wool over our eyes.

Oh! Bama. Economy Propels Obama to 53%-42% Lead Over McCain.

A new ABC/Washington Post poll is reporting this morning that Barack Obama has seized the reins of economic discontent, vaulting over John McCain's convention gains by persuading voters he both better understands their economic troubles and can better address them.

Economic concerns, plus an Obama lead among those worried about their well-being, spells a lead for the Democrat: In a head-to-head-match-up he's now supported 52% to 43% among likely voters, the first significant advantage for either candidate among likely voters in ABC/Post polls.

The contest has shifted from a 49%-47% McCain-Obama race Immediately after the Republican convention, McCain led Obama by 49%-42%. But the bounce, on individual issues and attributes as well as in overall preference, is gone.

Fully 53% of registered voters in the ABC /WaPo study call the economy the single most important issue in the election, up 12 points in two weeks to an extraordinary level of agreement.

The public is cool to the bailout itself, underscoring economic uncertainty.

Eight in 10 are worried about the economy's future, with 50% saying they’re “very worried.” Personal concern runs high as well: 60% are worried about their family's finances. And 83% say the country is seriously off on the wrong track, back within a point of its record high – set just this June – in polls dating to early 1970s.

All these work for Obama.

He's recovered to a 14% lead over McCain in trust to handle the economy, and leads by 13% specifically in trust to deal with the meltdown of major financial institutions.

Obama leads by more, 57%-33%, in better understanding the public's economic problems.

Tellingly, after trailing by 17 points, he's pulled even with McCain in trust to handle a major crisis. And Obama holds wide margins in preference among likely voters most concerned about the economy.

Attention to the contest, meanwhile, is remarkable. Fully 91% of registered voters are following it closely and 55% "very" closely – both highs in ABC/Post polls dating to the 1988 presidential election.

The number of McCain supporters who describe themselves as "very enthusiastic" about his candidacy plunged to 34%, down from 46% after the Republican convention. A steady and far greater number of Obama's supporters remain very enthusiastic about their candidate, 62%.

In a related challenge, concern about the candidates' age is up: 48%, a new high, call it an important factor in their vote, and it hurts McCain: Those who call it important favor Obama by 2-1, 63%-32%.

Then there are white women. They're back to a dead heat now, precisely where they were in mid-July and a dramatic turnaround from June when they backed McCain by 16-points.

Shifts in other key swing groups are also striking.

• White Catholics have shifted from a broad post-convention preference for McCain, 57-38 percent, to a dead heat.
• Independents, likewise, went from +10 for McCain two weeks ago to +14 for Obama now. And married women, +11 for McCain on Sept. 7, are +5 for Obama now.
• Among other changes, there’s been a major swing to Obama in the Midwest. He’s now up there, 53%-40%, almost a complete turnaround from the 54%-43% McCain advantage on Sept. 7.

The shift toward Obama is not limited to economic issues: While he's gained the upper hand on the pre-eminent factor, others have moved along as well. McCain had led by 10 points in trust to handle the Iraq war; now Obama is +4. McCain's 20-point lead on terrorism is now an insignificant 4 points, the closest of the campaign.

And they're now even in trust to handle international affairs, back to July's result.

On personal attributes, Obama's turned a scant 6-point deficit on honesty and trustworthiness into an 11-point advantage.

Data and facts from ABC News.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Paulson, Bernanke, Try Hustling Congress

Here we go again.

As the Bush administration did with the Patriot Act and Iraq War resolution, Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke spent today trying to hustle Congress into new territory using the familiar administration tactic of hysteria. Fortunately, this time it looks as if more than a few members have read the fine print before committing us to a whole new level of disaster.

The meltdown is a prime example of what happens when the nation's leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, on Wall Street and Main Street, hold government service in contempt. And who believe, amazingly, that "the market" is an alternate life form requiring no supervision or oversight.

Paulson spent a good part of the day telling Senator Dodd’s banking committee not to fret, not to worry, not to upset “marketplace forces.” Just show him the money today and tomorrow he’ll talk with Congress about nettlesome issues such as oversight, executive compensation, public ownership of bailed out institutions and so on. Watching Paulson reminds me of Wimpy, a 1930s-era cartoon character who kept telling waiters, “I’ll gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today.” Except Wimpy never came back to pay.

According to the New York Times, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio asked the former professor-turned-Fed chief, “Do you think Wall Street owes the American people an apology?”

Bernanke quibbled over word choice, ruminating that “Wall Street is an abstraction. There were many people who made mistakes, many regulators who made mistakes.” In other words, everyone was responsible so no one is responsible. That’s how the old Supreme Soviet did things as a hedge against anyone being tossed in the Lubyanka. Paulson dashed to Bernanke’s rescue, turning populist and saying, “I share the outrage … There’s a lot of blame to go around.”

If any apologies are owed, apparently we’ll get them later but we’re not sure from who or when we’ll get them – if at all.

Meanwhile, Bernanke and Paulson clearly lost sight of the fact that Wall St. as the "market' is simply human nature writ large, with all the greed and malign intent of the worst of all evil empires. Without regulation and oversight, anarchy ensues and it is always the little guy who pays the price.

Isn’t it funny that the same people who rail against "socialized medicine" wholeheartedly support socialized banking?

Well, I guess they've got theirs so who else matters?

Yet there is a ray of sunlight shining through the thunderheads. Like every other proposed condition on the bailout money, Paulson and Bernanke spent much of the day trying to convince Senators to set aside punitive measures for executives until after the bailout. But Sen. Dodd drew a line in the sand. Any bailout would “include executive compensation,” he said. “Count on it.”

And so it goes, as the great Linda Ellerby would say as her sign-off line. And so it goes.

Fiction Is Better Than This Reality

– Guest post by Denis Campbell, editor of VadimusPost.com

“What will be the next thing that challenges us? That makes us work harder and go farther? You know, when smallpox was eradicated, it was considered the single greatest humanitarian achievement of this century. Surely, we can do it again. As we did in the time when our eyes looked towards the heavens, and with outstretched fingers, we touched the face of God. Here’s to (toasting) absent friends, and the ones that are here now.”
- President Bartlett, The West Wing, Season 1, Episode 5

When the running dialogue in the real Presidential race gets too much to bear, I take a moment away from this computer screen and pop a DVD in from the fictional White House to chase my own higher angels and prayers of a new White House. I look past the slimy ads, liars, crooks, thieves, agendas, polls, speeches, SPIN, and see moments here of pure inspiration, emotion and a government as it should be versus the government as it today is.

The people in that show serve a higher purpose, truly focused on Country First as more than a slogan.

When at the end of this current DVD, Josh Lyman stops the President in the portico and simply says, “Mr. President, we talk about enemies more than we used to.” He simply replies, “yeah.”

And while it was clear the seeds for where we are today in this epic campaign’s seeming archetypal struggle of good vs. evil were planted long before 1999 when this episode first aired, indeed nothing in the political landscape looks as it did back in 1994 when the Gingrich Revolution first hit Washington, or earlier.

I watch this DVD and am taken back to early spring of 1973 and a week-long excursion to Washington DC as a 16-year old high school junior in the Close-Up program. There we met giants of politics, including a freshman senator from Delaware, now Vice Presidential candidate, on the subway between the Capitol and Senate Office buildings. We sat next to him and the late Senator Heinz from Pennsylvania. These gentlemen and they remain as such in my memory, stopped their conversation to converse with two young kids from Massachusetts.

We were young and the antithesis of cynicism. We had high ideals as we sat at the feet of Senator Burke listening to him challenge us in a way no politician has since though inspiring oratory, not knowing or caring he was at that time having a torrid affair with television’s Barbara Walters. Those sorts of things happened in private, were no one else’s business and were not the fodder of tabloid journalism or dramatic television self confessions to boost book sales.

The Watergate story was breaking furiously all week and we clamoured to the hotel newsstand for the next big revelation in the venerable Washington Post, now a shadow of its former self. There was no CNN or even much cable television so we read newspapers and read great writers and editorialists and this was just two short months after the President was re-inaugurated for a second term.

We had faith the truth would come out and indeed it did and he was shown the door a year later. We believed in justice and accountability. We watched as Attorney General Elliott Richardson resigned as U.S. attorney general when he refused, as directed by President Nixon, to fire the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal rather than take part in a cover-up.

Today, sadly, neither he nor Nixon would be gone because our own standards have so slipped so badly. As I watched Karl Rove pull the puppet strings in Texas for Bush 43 without a shred of dignity or decency, just how low can we go and what can we get away with, it was clear we’d not just lost our moral compass, it was thrown out with the trash.

And yet I always kept hope.

I lived in The Netherlands and was so inspired when Minister-President Wim Kok resigned on April 16, 1999, the day it became widely reported that Dutch UN Peacekeeping troops stood by and did nothing while the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Muslim men and boys was carried out by Serbian troops.

That was a statement of honour that is much missing in today’s governance. If something bad happens on my watch, the buck stops here and I take personal responsibility. Sadly, I cannot see an American President ever again resigning unless frog-marched out of the Oval Office with a smoking gun in his hand, a dead body on the carpet.

Meanwhile, the current looting of the Treasury produced this e-mail in my box today:

Dear American Friend:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had a crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gramm, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transaction is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully,
Minister of Treasury
Henry Paulson

Denis Campbell edits a daily e-newsmagazine at www.vadimuspost.com.

From A Dog Named Checkers To The Looting Of America.

On today in 1952, Republican vice-presidential candidate Richard Nixon went on television to deliver what came to be known as the “Checkers” speech. Appearing on flickering, black-and-white sets across America, his wife seated next to him like the stage prop she’d play for the rest of Nixon’s life, he denied allegations of improper campaign financing. At stake was whether Nixon would remain on the GOP ticket with Dwight Eisenhower; at issue was a vicuna coat purportedly given to Pat and a dog supposedly given to their daughters by Republican Party bigwigs seeking favors.

A coat and a puppy! How quaintly innocent it all seems now.

Now, if all you came to offer a politician a coat, you wouldn’t get to take it off before being hustled out of the office and, oh, take that damn dog with you before it pees on the carpet. The whole point of Grover Norquist and Tom Delay’s brainchild, the K Street Project, was to lay tens of millions of slimy corporate dollars across the greasy monkey palms of the Republican Party and its greedy minions on Capitol Hill.

The McCain-Palin campaign is the K Street Project taken to its logical conclusion. It is managed, staffed and run by K Street men who made small fortunes from corporations seeking access to and favors from politicians. One look no further than Rick Davis, the campaign’s manager, who received $5-million from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

"The value that he brought to the relationship was the closeness to Senator McCain and the possibility that Senator McCain was going to run for president again," says Robert McCarson, a former spokesman for Fannie Mae. McCarson told the New York Times that while he worked there, Fannie and Freddie together paid Mr. Davis's firm $30,000 a month, which eventually totalled a handsome $2-million fee.

At the time that Davis was recruited by the two mortgage giants to run the Home Ownership Alliance in 2000, they were under pressure from private industry rivals and deregulation-minded Republicans who argued that the two companies' federal sponsorship gave them an unfair advantage and put taxpayers at risk. As a result, the financial service industry’s go-to guy on the Hill, John McCain’s BFF Phil Gramm, the two institutions were set free to become public companies.

In the end, of course, the de-regulate everything Republican Congress was right. Freddie and Fannie put taxpayers at severe risk but not because they were federally regulated. Instead, cut loose from their minders, Freddie and Fannie joined the Wall St. crowd hanging over the roulette wheels, tossing chips on every number in sight. Odd, even, black, red, it didn’t matter; the thrill was the action more than winning. Eventually, like all addicted gamblers, they – along with their playing partners on Wall St. – played away everything until they didn’t have enough money for a bus ticket home.

So Congress is sending money for a ticket. A whole lot of money for a whole lot of tickets, as it turns out.

But instead of insisting that the addicts agree to go to Gambler’s Anonymous meetings as the price of a free ride home, Hank Paulson – Morgan Stanley’s former $35-million a year man who now runs the US Treasury – says forget any conditions or restrictions or penalties for the not-so-repentant gamblers; just trust me with a trillion dollars, give or take, to straighten things out and I’ll deal with my former lunch club buddies.

Here’s the best part.

The way Paulson and the White House insist the be law written, Treasury alone would hire “consultants” to decide which lousy loans should be purchased, how much they’re worth, to whom they should be re-sold and at what price. Since Paulson wants to do this with no oversight by Congress, administrative agencies or court review, then clearly “consultant” means bankers and other Wall St. moguls. In other words, the people who screwed the pooch in the first place and need rescuing by Washington would be hired to decide which pieces of their toilet paper should be bought up and at what price.

And not Congress nor the courts nor any regulatory agency could override their decisions.

Shorthand: The Ponzi scheme artists who got us into this mess we’re all paying to clean up will make money off of us three more ways, besides the fees they got when they originally packaged, sold or bought the garbage loans. Now, they’ll get fees for untangling their own mess; fees for pricing and re-packaging the garbage being laid off on taxpayers; and, finally, fees for selling the new paper.

“Fees” doesn’t mean minimum wage.

Pres. Bush is said to be balking at some of the restrictions Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank – chairmen of their respective banking committees – are insisting be written into the law. Despite some jawboning, Bush doesn’t have any real choice but to go along with added provisions such as Congressional and regulatory oversight, homeowner relief and provisions such as controlling bonuses for executives of banks seeking help.

Why? Because if Bush refuses to sign the eventual measure, the good news is that no one will remember his Iraq disaster; the bad news is he will be remembered as the 21st century’s Herbert Hoover.

We sure have come a long way from when a vicuna coat and a puppy were major scandals.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New Michael Moore Film “Slacker Uprising” Free On-Line Tomorrow

If you didn’t receive the e-mail announcement or see anything in the media, Michael Moore is making his new film Slacker Uprising available for free all day on Sept. 23, beginning at midnight.

“It's also one of my contributions to help get out the vote November 4th,” Moore said in a letter to his e-mail list.

So, he’s giving “blanket permission” for anyone to download the film, e-mail it, burn it and “share it with anyone and everyone in the U.S. and Canada.”

The film premiered in Ann Arbor MI last Thursday, according to this news report.

There are four ways to download the film:

1. Blip.tv will provide standard resolution streaming, free of commercials and advertising.
2. Amazon Video on Demand will provide a high quality version of the above stream.
3. iTunes allows anyone to download "Slacker Uprising" on their iTunes, iPod, or Apple TV and view it either there or on a television.
4. Hypernia is providing bandwidth, servers and management to host "Slacker Uprising" online, it can be downloaded and viewed any time, or it may be burned onto a DVD.

The legendary, iconic filmmaker says, “I want to encourage you to screen this movie with large groups. I believe it will inspire our get-out-the-vote efforts at a time when we need to get millions registered in the next two weeks.”

Is National Masochism Causing The Tight Presidential Race?

We must be a nation of masochists.

While Americans pretend to be puritanical, Juan Cole notes at www.juancole.com we’re actually rabid masochists addicted to whips, leather and sadism. For example, a recent issue of Psychology Today reports large numbers of people are asphyxiated accidentally every year because they need to be choked to achieve sexual pleasure.

It is the only thing to explain tight poll numbers in the presidential race.

I don’t understand.

Republicans came to Washington in 2000 with a solid majority in both houses of Congress and on the Supreme Court, allowing them to steal the presidency. If you ever wanted to know what a pure Republican Party government unhindered by Democrats or anyone else might look like, this was the moment.

After being handed a large budget surplus by a Democratic president, they immediately ran up a gargantuan deficit. In the process, they doubled the national debt to $10-trillion. You don't run big deficits of $400-billion a year in good times according to John Maynard Keynes; you save deficit spending for a recession, when the economy needs a jolt.

If you're already racking up a big deficit every year in a good economy, you have no way of making a difference during a downturn except with a mega-deficit, destroying the value of the dollar.

Destroying Social Security

Remember that when he was president, Bill Clinton was talking about using the surplus to pay down the national debt or fix the looming crisis in Social Security.

But now, with the government already saddled with $10-trillion in debt and with another trillion and a half – give or take a few hundred billion – added to it last week, exactly how will Social Security be fixed?

It won't, or not if John McCain is elected. Republicans from Ronald Reagan to George Bush and McCain himself hate Social Security because people are still grateful to the Democrats and FDR for creating the program. Bush tried privatizing it and McCain helped with glee; clearly, they want to destroy it. Social Security is the main reason our elderly are not the poorest, most miserable section of society, as they were in the 1930s.

In 2000, many Republicans came to Washington with a crooked plan to use fraudulent methods to ensure that campaign financing went almost exclusively to them through super-lobbyists like Jack Abramoff. Grover Norquist’s K-Street Project aimed at guaranteeing big corporate dollars for the Republicans in exchange for giving corporations the right to write legislation affecting their industry. Laws governing pharmaceuticals were written by the pharmaceutical industry lobbyists, energy laws written by the oil industry, etc., and the Republicans just signed off on everything.

So Abramoff, Delay, the whole K-Street crowd, got busted in this slezy scam. Once upon a time, this would have haunted the scamming party for decades. But because Big Media is mostly Republican-owned, it just quietly subsided as a story.

It is not just that the rap sheet against Republican politicians is longer than the trans-Atlantic cable, it is that so much of the corruption took the form of a conspiracy.

Pirates Of Plunder

Both parties have people in them looking to get rich on the side. But the K Street Project wasn’t just about individual aggrandizement. It was about fixing the whole American system permanently to kow-tow to the super-rich without so much as a whimper. Worse, it was to punish – eliminate – the middle class.

After the 2002 mid-terms, even George W. Bush wanted to cut middle class taxes. But Cheney over-ruled him, insisting on another deep tax cut for the very wealthy. We won the mid-terms, Cheney said. This is our due.

"Our due?”

Cheney finally said aloud what everyone always suspected: The Republican Party is the party of the super-rich, the 3-million at the top of society who own 45% of privately held wealth. They would benefit by Republican rule, just like in Brazil.

Of course, there were other conspiracies by the pirouetting pirates of plunder.

There was the Iraq War, one of the great criminal conspiracies of modern times. In his new book, Angler, Barton Gellman relates how Dick Cheney lied to then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey before the vote on the war, telling him that Saddam's family was al-Qaeda and Saddam's evil scientists had made a suitcase nuke he’d hand to bin Laden. Weeping, Armey tells Gellman he deserved better than to be covered in horse shit by the Vice President of the United States.

Bush, Cheney and the Republicans took us to war against a country that had not attacked the United States; they killed or maimed 33,000 Americans; they turned a whole Arab Muslim country into a burned-out hulk, displacing millions and continuously bombing the very cities that they had conquered and occupied, killing and disfiguring.

They fed us propaganda with implausible lies about mobile biological weapons labs and Baathist al-Qaeda. Our journalists bought the snake oil hook, line and sinker, as did the public.

Electronic Roman Forum

Dozens of car bombs go off in Iraq every day, killing dozens at a time, and we are told by cable "news" bloviators it is "calm" now. It’s a vast, electronic, Roman Forum: Unbalanced celebrities and philandering politicians are fed to the lions before millions of cheering plebes by corporate moguls desperately hoping that the marks will not notice the pickpockets in the arena, relieving them of their purses.

This Washington crew thought nothing of inducing the press to out a covert CIA operative working against Iranian nuclear proliferation, Valerie Plame. Their culture of lies is such that they attempt to divert attention from all the phone calls to journalists by Scooter Libby and Karl Rove trying to get the press to print her name by saying they didn’t succeed.

Why is trying to inform the Iranians of the identity of a CIA field officer assigned to spy on Iran not an act of treason? After all, you can't inform the world without also informing the Iranians. Isn't the punishment for treason hanging? See anyone swinging by their neck?

The Republican Party conducted a vast illegal spying operation on Americans and foreign diplomats. We still don't know why exactly, and domestic political motivations cannot be ruled out.

They imposed on us the totally unpatriotic PATRIOT Act, gutting the Constitution. So, peaceful protesters at the RNC in St. Paul are actually charged with terrorism for exercising 1st Amendment rights in this Brave New World.

Meanwhile, bridges and levies are breaking and falling down everywhere because Cheney did not want to tax his billionaire pals to pay for upkeep on the country's infrastructure.

They so radically deregulated the banking system while removing any meaningful oversight, they came within hours of presiding over a 1929-style absolute meltdown of the nation’s entire financial structure. To cover the criminal activities of their cronies, they are now proposing to impose a fine of $1-trillion dollars on the middle class to ensure that their partners in crime receive $75-million golden handshakes while being held harmless for their misdeeds.

What’s To Decide?

And in the wake of the greatest and most sustained act of systematic plunder since the Mongol hordes appropriated the riches of everyplace in Asia from Beijing to Isfahan, the reaction of the supine, slave-like American voting public is to scratch their heads, having a hard time deciding if they would like more of the same.

Take Joe Castiglione. He is an independent voter in Grand Rapids who went to a McCain rally last week looking for answers about how to fix Michigan's economy. "If you look at Michigan, you're going to find people saying 'we've heard the speech, where's the answers,'" Mr. Castiglione, who said he’s struggling to decide whether to vote for McCain or Barack Obama, told McClatchy newspapers.

He said this on the same day as a report showed Michigan's jobless rate jumped to 8.9% in August. It was 7.2% last August. What can’t Mr. Castiglione figure out?

Despite his aristocratic prerogatives and high society connections, even the Marquis de Sade was brought down by a lowly maid who complained to police of his cutting her while having his way with her. In contrast to that plucky domestic servant, the American public appears to enjoy being lacerated, moaning with delight at each new act of abuse and abasement while gasping for air.

If you insist on bending over Nov. 4, I hope you enjoy pain. You’re going to be ecstatic.