Monday, October 31, 2005

A White House in disarray

Kaytrina has laid the Bush White House open to charges of incompetence and cronyism. Then the Harriet Meirs nomination to the Supreme Court has collapsed, and a key long-term Presidential aide has been indicted by the federal prosecuter. Karl Rove is also still in danger. Newsweek has a good article on the current condition of Bush and the administration.

Employer based health insurance fails large groups of Americans

WalMart's recent memo outlining a strategy of hiring healthier workers and discouraging the employment of people who might need medical care should be looked at very carefully. It is a very rational strategy for firms which have a large employee base and are concerned about the escalating cost of health care, but it makes a lot of potential workers into pariahs.

The first issue for an employer is how healthy a potential employee is, not how productive they are likely to be. It throws the issue of keeping the workforce healthy back onto the government. That will be a major cause of unemployment and national economic inefficiency. TPM Cafe has an interesting discussion on the issue.

Monday, October 24, 2005

What went wrong with the 2004 Election in Ohio?

More evidence of Republican chicanery to steal the election in November 2004.

On January 5, Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, released Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio. The report was the result of a five-week investigation by the committee’s Democrats, who reviewed thousands of complaints of fraud, malfeasance, or incompetence surrounding the election in Ohio, and further thousands of complaints that poured in by phone and email as word of the inquiry spread. The congressional researchers were assisted by volunteers in Ohio who held public hearings in Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, and Cincinnati, and questioned more than two hundred witnesses. (Although they were invited, Republicans chose not to join in the inquiry.)

Preserving Democracy describes three phases of Republican chicanery: the run-up to the election, the election itself, and the post-election cover-up. The wrongs exposed are not mere dirty tricks (though Bush/Cheney also went in heavily for those) but specific violations of the U.S. and Ohio constitutions, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the National Voter Registration Act, and the Help America Vote Act. Although Conyers trod carefully when the report came out, insisting that the crimes did not affect the outcome of the race (a point he had to make, he told me, “just to get a hearing”), his report does “raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said that the Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner that conforms to Ohio law, let alone Federal requirements and constitutional standards.” The report cites “massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies” throughout the state—wrongs, moreover, that were hardly random accidents. “In many cases,” the report says, “these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.”

The first phase of malfeasance entailed, among many other actions, several months of bureaucratic hijinks aimed at disenfranchising Democrats, the most spectacular result of which was “a wide discrepancy between the availability of voting machines in more minority, Democratic and urban areas as compared to more Republican, suburban and exurban areas.” Such unequal placement had the predictable effect of slowing the voting process to a crawl at Democratic polls, while making matters quick and easy in Bush country: a clever way to cancel out the Democrats’ immense success at registering new voters in Ohio. [...]

It seemed at times that Ohio’s secretary of state was determined to try every stunt short of levying a poll tax to suppress new voter turnout. On September 7, based on an overzealous reading of an obscure state bylaw, he ordered county boards of elections to reject all Ohio voter-registration forms not “printed on white, uncoated paper of not less than 80 lb. text weight.” Under public pressure he reversed the order three weeks later, by which time unknown numbers of Ohioans had been disenfranchised. Blackwell also attempted to limit access to provisional ballots. The Help America Vote Act—passed in 2002 to address some of the problems of the 2000 election—prevents election officials from deciding at the polls who will be permitted to cast provisional ballots, as earlier Ohio law had permitted. On September 16, Blackwell issued a directive that somehow failed to note that change. A federal judge ordered him to revise the language, Blackwell resisted, and the court was forced to draft its own version of the directive, which it ordered Blackwell to accept, even as it noted Blackwell’s “vigorous, indeed, at times, obdurate opposition” to compliance with the law.

Under Blackwell the state Republican Party tried to disenfranchise still more Democratic voters through a technique known as “caging.” The party sent registered letters to new voters, “then sought to challenge 35,000 individuals who refused to sign for the letters,” including “voters who were homeless, serving abroad, or simply did not want to sign for something concerning the Republican Party.” It should be noted that marketers have long used zip codes to target, with remarkable precision, the ethnic makeup of specific neighborhoods, and also that, according to exit polls last year, 84 percent of those black citizens who voted in Ohio voted for Kerry.

The second phase of lawlessness began the Monday before the election, when Blackwell issued two directives restricting media coverage of the election. First, reporters were to be barred from the polls, because their presence contravened Ohio’s law on “loitering” near voting places. Second, media representatives conducting exit polls were to remain 100 feet away from the polls. [...] Both cases were at once struck down in federal court on First Amendment grounds.

Blackwell did manage to ban reporters from a post-election ballot-counting site in Warren County because—election officials claimed—the FBI had warned of an impending terrorist attack there. The FBI said it issued no such warning, however, and the officials refused to name the agent who alerted them. Moreover, as the Cincinnati Enquirer later reported, email correspondence between election officials and the county’s building services director indicated that lockdown plans—“down to the wording of the signs that would be posted on the locked doors”—had been in the works for at least a week. Beyond suggesting that officials had something to hide, the ban was also, according to the report, a violation of Ohio law and the Fourteenth Amendment.

Contrary to a prior understanding, Blackwell also kept foreign monitors away from the Ohio polls. Having been formally invited by the State Department on June 9, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an international consortium based in Vienna, had come to witness and report on the election. The mission’s two-man teams had been approved to monitor the process in eleven states—but the observers in Ohio were prevented from watching the opening of the polling places, the counting of the ballots, and, in some cases, the election itself.

To what end would election officials risk so malodorous an action? We can only guess, of course. We do know, however, that Ohio, like the nation, was the site of numerous statistical anomalies—so many that the number is itself statistically anomalous, since every single one of them took votes from Kerry.

In Butler County the Democratic candidate for State Supreme Court took in 5,347 more votes than Kerry did. In Cuyahoga County ten Cleveland precincts “reported an incredibly high number of votes for third party candidates who have historically received only a handful of votes from these urban areas”—mystery votes that would mostly otherwise have gone to Kerry. In Franklin County, Bush received nearly 4,000 extra votes from one computer, and, in Miami County, just over 13,000 votes appeared in Bush’s column after all precincts had reported. In Perry County the number of Bush votes somehow exceeded the number of registered voters, leading to voter turnout rates as high as 124 percent. Youngstown, perhaps to make up the difference, reported negative 25 million votes.

In Cuyahoga County and in Franklin County—both Democratic strongholds—the arrows on the absentee ballots were not properly aligned with their respective punch holes, so that countless votes were miscast, as in West Palm Beach back in 2000. In Mercer County some 4,000 votes for president—representing nearly 7 percent of the electorate—mysteriously dropped out of the final count. The machines in heavily Democratic Lucas County kept going haywire, prompting the county’s election director to admit that prior tests of the machines had failed. One polling place in Lucas County never opened because all the machines were locked up somewhere and no one had the key. In Hamilton County many absentee voters could not cast a Democratic vote for president because county workers, in taking Ralph Nader’s name off many ballots, also happened to remove John Kerry’s name. The Washington Post reported that in Mahoning County “25 electronic machines transferred an unknown number of Kerry votes to the Bush column,” but it did not think to ask why.

Ohio Democrats also were heavily thwarted through dirty tricks recalling Richard Nixon’s reign and the systematic bullying of Dixie. There were “literally thousands upon thousands” of such incidents, the Conyers report notes, cataloguing only the grossest cases. Voters were told, falsely, that their polling place had changed; the news was conveyed by phone calls, “door-hangers,” and even party workers going door to door. There were phone calls and fake “voter bulletins” instructing Democrats that they were not to cast their votes until Wednesday, November 3, the day after Election Day. Unknown “volunteers” in Cleveland showed up at the homes of Democrats, kindly offering to “deliver” completed absentee ballots to the election office. And at several polling places, election personnel or hired goons bused in to do the job “challenged” voters—black voters in particular—to produce documents confirming their eligibility to vote. The report notes one especially striking incident:

In Franklin County, a worker at a Holiday Inn observed a team of 25 people who called themselves the “Texas Strike Force” using payphones to make intimidating calls to likely voters, targeting people recently in the prison system. The “Texas Strike Force” paid their way to Ohio, but their hotel accommodations were paid for by the Ohio Republican Party, whose headquarters is across the street. The hotel worker heard one caller threaten a likely voter with being reported to the FBI and returning to jail if he voted. Another hotel worker called the police, who came but did nothing.

The Ohio recount officially started on December 13—five days after Conyers’s hearings opened—and was scheduled to go on until December 28. Because the recount (such as it was) coincided with the inquiry, Conyers was able to discover, and reveal in his report, several instances of what seemed to be electoral fraud.

On December 13, for instance, Sherole Eaton, deputy director of elections for Hocking County, filed an affidavit stating that the computer that operates the tabulating machine had been “modified” by one Michael Barbian Jr., an employee of Triad GSI, the corporate manufacturer of the county’s voting machinery.

Ms. Eaton witnessed Mr. Barbian modify the Hocking County computer vote tabulator before the announcement of the Ohio recount. She further witnessed Barbian, upon the announcement that the Hocking County precinct was planned to be the subject of the initial Ohio test recount, make further alterations based on his knowledge of the situation. She also has firsthand knowledge that Barbian advised election officials how to manipulate voting machinery to ensure that [the] preliminary hand recount matched the machine count.

The committee also learned that Triad similarly intervened in at least two other counties. In a filmed interview, Barbian said that he had examined machines not only in Hocking County but also in Lorain, Muskingum, Clark, Harrison, and Guernsey counties [...]

Based on the above, including actual admissions and statements by Triad employees, it strongly appears that Triad and its employees engaged in a course of behavior to provide “cheat sheets” to those counting the ballots. The cheat sheets told them how many votes they should find for each candidate, and how many over and under votes they should calculate to match the machine count. In that way, they could avoid doing a full county-wide hand recount mandated by state law. If true, this would frustrate the entire purpose of the recount law—to randomly ascertain if the vote counting apparatus is operating fairly and effectively, and if not to conduct a full hand recount.

The report notes Triad’s role in several other cases. In Union County the hard drive on one tabulator was replaced after the election. (The old one had to be subpoenaed.) In Monroe County, after the 3 percent hand count had twice failed to match the machine count, a Triad employee brought in a new machine and took away the old one. (That machine’s count matched the hand count.) Such operations are especially worrying in light of the fact that Triad’s founder, Brett A. Rapp, “has been a consistent contributor to Republican causes.” (Neither Barbian nor Rapp would respond to Harper’s queries, and the operator at Triad refused even to provide the name of a press liaison.)

So where were the media? Silenced again. By the looks of this, the otherwise incompetent President Bush has now stolen two elections.

Besides the injustice of Bush being again innaugerated, it is an injustice that Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio, remains outside of prison at this time.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

CIA Commander at Tora Bora claims he knew bin Laden was there.

From Larry C. Johnson at No Quarter:
The CIA field commander for the agency's Jawbreaker team at Tora Bora, Gary Berntsen, has finally got approval to publish his book, which will hit the streets on December 27, 2005. The CIA has sat on the book for more than a year and tried to stop its publication. Although the book is not intended as a criticism of President Bush, it will land another body blow to the beleaguered Bush Presidency. Bernsten's key point in the book is his testimony that he and other U.S. commanders did know that bin Laden was among the hundreds of fleeing Al Qaeda and Taliban members. According to NEWSWEEK, "Berntsen says he had definitive intelligence that bin Laden was holed up at Tora Bora--intelligence operatives had tracked him--and could have been caught. He was there."
This contradicts the statements of General Tommy Franks, and leads to speculation that he got the Medal of Freedom for his silence on the decision to let bin Laden escape Tora Bora because a captured bin Laden would not have propelled public opinion and Congress to approve the preemptive attack on Iraq.

The delay by the CIA to permit publishing the book before the Presidential Election in November 2004 adds weight to the suspicion, as does the fact that CIA Director Tenet got the Medal of Freedom for his silence on the cooked Intelligence he was feeding to the White House.

There is no purpose or policy out of the Bush White House, just Politics and Propaganda. The period of Republican domination of the Federal Government is going to be seen by historians as an extremely dark period in American History, certainly on a moral level with slavery.

Why do we have public schools in the first place?

Matthew Yglesias provides an excellent argument against school vouchers by pointing out the original purpose of the public school systems in America.

Who is Patrick Fitzgerald?

The New York Times offers an interesting description of the man who is at the center of the Plame Affair investigation and holds all the cards very close to his vest.

Their description is "Leak Prosecutor Is Called Exacting and Apolitical." He is a man who is a workaholic and will go where the evidence takes him. He is unlikely to be deterred by potential repercussions of any indictments. These characteristics, the ending of the term of the Grand Jury October 28, and his ability to keep his office from leaking have led to the flurry predictions what he will do, from simply walking away and saying he found nothing indictable up to possibly indicting the Vice President for crimes he has committed.

Will Jeb Bush replace Dick Cheney?

Donna Cassata of Associated Press asks who will replace White House aides who are indicted. She also offers some interesting suggestions.

For example, if Dick Cheney is indicted, he has stated that he has no intention of running for President in 2008 anyway. What if he resigns and G. W. Bush appoints his brother Jeb as Vice President? That would certainly set Jeb up to run in 2008.

It's an interesting article. Go read it.

Libby is presumed toast in the Plame Affair

Josh Marshall explains why it appears that "Scooter" Libby is being set up to take the fall for the White House attacks on Joe Wilson and his Wife Valerie.

The effort is clearly orchestrated, it presumes that Libby is gone and has no hope of survival, and the effort to throw him from the sleigh to the wolves of the Press is designed to protect Cheney and Bush. Keep that in mind as you see stories demonizing Libby as the bad guy in the story.

GAO reports flaws in electronic voting systems

The Government Auditing Agency has verified that electronic voting machines can be "hacked." Here is an excerpt from what Rep. John conyers said in his dKos diary:
what GAO found: Serious problems were identified regarding the security control system, access controls, hardware controls, and the voter-verified paper audit trail system. Among the security shortcomings identified by GAO:

Some electronic voting systems did not encrypt cast ballots or system audit logs, thus making it possible to alter them without detection.

It is easy to alter a file defining how a ballot appears, making it possible for someone to vote for one candidate and actually be recorded as voting for an entirely different candidate.

Falsifying election results without leaving any evidence of such an action by using altered memory cards.

Access to the voting network was easily compromised because not all digital recording electronic voting systems (DREs) had supervisory functions password-protected, so access to one machine provided access to the whole network.

Supervisory across to the voting network was also compromised by repeated use of the same user IDs combined with easily guessed passwords.

The locks protecting access to the system were easily picked and keys were simple to copy.

One DRE model was shown to have been networked in such a rudimentary fashion that a power failure on one machine would cause the entire network to fail.

GAO identified further problems with the security protocols and background screening practices for vendor personnel.
Republicans are not honest, and Diebold has been a very suspicious company. Odds are the election in Ohio was hacked. Electronic voting systems should not be used. Too vulnerable to hacking without leaving tracks.

Friday, October 21, 2005

America is in real trouble.

This is the view of Colin Powell and Richard Armitrage:
There is no question from private remarks and public grimaces, some reaching back to early 2001, neither Powell nor Armitage had or has much trust or respect for Rice, and they share with other senior Republican wisemen the conviction that Rumsfeld is quite literally mad, and Cheney a dangerous, vindictive monomaniac.
These are the people who control the information going to G. W. Bush. Can't say I am surprised, but I sure wish they had spoken out before letting us invade Iraq.

This was published in Kevin Drum.

White House has no Policy apparatus

What is meant by "policy" is a strategy for making government accomplish its functions effectively and efficiently. It is the essence of governance. Governance differs from the political process of getting elected. This is what John DiIulio,
former Bush director of the White House Office Of Faith-based and Community
Initiatives, had to say about the White House:
"there is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: complete lack of a policy apparatus. Besides
the tax cut, which was cut and dried during the campaign, and the education bill, which was really a Ted Kennedy bill, the administration has not done much, either in absolute terms or in comparison to previous administrations at this stage, on domestic policy. What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm.

It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis. [They] consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest black-and-white terms for public consumption, then steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible."

The former White House director confides, "I heard many, many staff discussions but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis ... Every modern presidency moves on the fly, but on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking: discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera ."
This is a reflection of Bush's nature. He is a highly emotional man with little patience for policy discussions or analysis. That is the explanation for his famed "intuitive" decision-making process. It is ideologically based, with little time spend collecting and analyzing facts.

As we have seen, his intuition has not been an especially reliable guide for Presidential decisions. If nothing else, the invasion of Iraq has been described by one General as the greatest strategic blunder ever made by an American government. Sadly, we can't say there is nothing else that demonstrates the disaster in the White House.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tom DeLay reports to Sheriff; released on bond

Tom DeLay reported to the Harris County sheriff in Houston where he was fingerprinted, a mugshot was taken, and he was released on $10,000 bond. He showed up at 12:15 and was free before 1:00 PM today.

This is in anticipation of his appearance in Court on Friday. The Houston Chronicle has the story.

The Chronicle also lists back stories and documents in this case in a sidebar at the same link.

Who is to blame for the Katrina response?

Local officials were overwhelmed quickly, and the head of FEMA, Michael Brown, has testified that he was unaware of the magnitude of the disaster until Thursday, four days after the eye of Katrina passed over land.

Now we find out that he had constant updates from his assistant who was on site in New Orleans, beginning Sunday before Katrina hit. From the Washington Post
Marty Bahamonde, a FEMA regional director, told a Senate panel investigating the government's response to the disaster that he gave regular updates to people in contact with then-FEMA Director Michael Brown as early as Aug. 28, one day before Katrina made landfall.

In most cases, he was met with silence. In an Aug. 29 phone call to Brown informing him that the first levee had broke, Bahamonde said he received a polite thank you from Brown, who said he would check with the White House.

"I think there was a systematic failure at all levels of government to understand the magnitude of the situation," Bahamonde said.
The Republicans in the Bush administration appear to be leader-oriented. The leader decides what is to be done and passes orders down, but does not respond to information coming back up the chain of command. The plan is real to them, and reality is not allowed to interfere with the plan.

Note Brown's response above. "Bahamonde said he received a polite thank you from Brown, who said he would check with the White House." First, he is untrained and not competent; second, he has to wait for instructions from the White House before he can act himself. Brown probably got the same response from the White House that he gave to Bahanibde - silence.

This is what you get when you fill vacancies with strong ideologues who have no record of successful accomplishment.

The reason for a national organization to respond to disastors is to back up local organizations when they are overwhelmed and disrupted by the disastor. Katrina was too large for anyone in New Orleans to handle, and the evacuees were too many for any single state to deal with. Katrina (and Rita) were a national emergency, and FEMA simply failed to respond adequately.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Did Grover Norquist commit tax fraud?

Grover Norquist was deeply involved in the movement of money from the Abramoff client, eLottery, through Norquist's "Americans for Tax Reform" to the Faith and Family Alliance in Virginia Beach, and then to the Ralph Reed lobbying firm, Century Strategies.

Stuart Levine analyzes the transfers and explains why Norquist could be in real trouble.

The Faith and Family Alliance appears to be a shell organization which failed to report the money received from ATR. If Norquist knew that the money was unlikely to be reported, he probably chose that organization to send the money through in order to keep the IRS from knowing what the source of the money was. This is, itself, a serious crime.

Why are the Republicans upset over the Miers nomination?

Steven M. Teles provides an explanation. His explanation also provides an interesting insight into the changes in the American political system since the 70's.

Look at his explanation for the two wings, electoral and non-electoral, of both the Republican and Democratic Parties. Explains why the two wings of the Democratic Party have become de-coupled.

I see nothing in the analysis that suggests the de-coupling is permanent.

Why the House might turn over

Steven M. Teles explains why control of the House may turn over in 2006. The three link he provides are the explanation, the primary link is his reference for the logic.

The three links are here, here, and here. It is an interesting analysis.

Is America really moving to the Right?

Actually? No. The Washington Montly presents this analysis by Christopher Hayes. A key excerpt:
Two key trends are at work according to Hacker and Pierson: the growing numerical and financial strength of the Republican base and the GOP's refinement of a variety of tactical gambits—unified mostly by their reliance on subterfuge—to subvert the normal mechanisms that prevent majority coalitions from pushing through a radical agenda. All of this combines to produce "a systematic weakening of the institutional bonds that connect ordinary voters with elected politicians to ensure that American politics remains on center."
So what they are saying is that America is not accepting the agenda of the right as the new model of American politics. It is the unified Republican base, the increased amount of money they are using in politics, and the subterfuge with which they push their agenda and work to destroy the normal processes of American democracy.

It's money and lies behind their movement to return to the politics and economics of the 1890's.

That would imply that the corrective action is for Democrats to counter their money, or block access to it, expose their lies and counter with the truth, and work to improve and not destroy America's democratic mechanisms.

Monday, October 17, 2005

If a committee in the White House had exposed an OSS agent during WW II, they would all be shot.

Dave johnson makes the point from John at AMERICAblog:
If a senior White House staffer had intentionally outed an American spy during World War II, he'd have been shot.

My only disagreement is that this appears to be a conspiracy by the members of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), not just Karl Rove. The WHIG task force was set up in August 2002 by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and chaired by Karl Rove to coordinate all the executive branch elements in the run-up to the war in Iraq. There is now no doubt that the members of the WHIG were attempting to fraudulently sell the invasion of Iraq to the American people and Congressand. They they considered Joe Wilson a danger to their confidence job. They started to attack Joe Wilson prior to his editorial in the New York Times exposing the falsity of the evidence on which President Bush's famous 16 words in the State of the Union Speech. It was their attack on Joe Wilson that led to the Plame Affair which Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald has been investigating for nearly two years now.

The WHIG included Karl Rove , Karen Hughes , Mary Matalin, James R. Wilkinson, Nicholas E. Calio, Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, and I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby. We now know they were discussing Joe Wilson and how to silence him in the early Spring of 2003.

Imagine a similar cabal in the White House during WW II who were concerned about a diplomat married to an active OSS agent working to defeat the German. Now imagine that the cabal exposed that OSS agent, destroying her networks as the WHIG did to Valerie Plame.

They would have had a short trial for treason and a quick firing squad.

Yet the entire Republican Party has gathered to support Karl Rove and the others currently being investigated by the Special Prosecutor, Fitzgerald.

Yes, I am saying that the entire Republican Party as an organization is supporting and promoting treason.

More on Republican slush funds

This is an example of how money has been flowing around in the Republican Party. Jack Abramoff has been a lobbyist and slush fund manager, from which he made a great deal of money. However, he was supporting a private Jewish school and ran short of money, so he apparenlty got creative and a bit reckless, so he has been caught. I have no doubt that there are others who have been more careful.

Billon has the story.

Note the intermediate steps on the transfer of funds to Ralph Reed. Those have no purpose other than obscuring the source of the funds from the recipient.

Notice how eLottery had hired Abramoff to lobby against the bill to prevent on-line lotteries, and yet he has eLottery send the check to Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). TVC was trying to get the bill passed.

How is the internet changing politics?

There is an interesting discussion thread on Daily Kos about how the internet is changing American politics. Here is an excerpt from Marcos followed by my comment, then followed by an excerpt from a comment by Dallas Doc:
New school progressives are also less tolerant of ideological orthodoxy. We don't fall in line with the "acceptable" liberal position, frankly, because we're not trained to fall in line. We are more likely to be educated in an economy that values "proactiveness" and "self-initiative" and "problem solving" over blindly following the orders of our boss. We have the tools to research any and every issue in a way inconcievable even 10 years ago. We no longer need to rely on our "leaders" or the media to tell us what the "right" position on any one issue might be.
My comment in reply is:
You are perfectly correct. This is, however, an extremely individualistic postition, but politics rewards groups. The leaders are those who represent groups who agree on the goals they are working towards.

Groups operate to achieve shared goals. How do you take the highly individualistic process you describe and turn it into a set of shared goals that large groups can work to achieve?

Traditionally that has been the job of leaders and congresses. The legislative process takes individual positions and runs them through the political process to create mostly mutually agreed upon shared goals for groups. The groups then use those shared goals to attract individual members.

It was easier for leaders and potential leaders when the only source of information for group members was those leaders or potential leaders. Creating goals from the diverse data available on the internet would seem to me to require policy institutes and strong polling organizations, with trusted public figures to present the results. It would probably be better if the trusted public figures were not also attempting to be activist leaders.

The generational problem seems to me to be the nature of the connection between the members of the groups, the leaders, the information sources and the shared goals they are all working to achieve. Leaders who acknowledge and accept and reflect the new sources of information the followers have available will be more successful than those who don't appear to accept those sources.

Otherwise the problem of building effective political groups around shared goals remains much the same.
Then Dallas Doc offers some ideas on what changes are necessary:
Consensus rather than hierarchy; persuasion rather than loyalty; attraction rather than membership are likely to be the main features of a new politics. Political figures who can engage and persuade voters, who can demonstrate personal integrity and attractive values, who are genuine and honest, will be successful in this new politics.
The new leaders are going to have to be good at these skills.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

How lobbyist money controls the Republican legislation.

If you want to see how the money floating around between companies, lobbyists, and Republican legislators to buy the legislation wanted by the companies, the Washington Post has an article describing one such action. Go read it. It is appalling.

Where is the Plame leak investigation going?

Frank Rich of the New York Times has a long article on the subject. Essentially his conclusion is that the investigation into the Plame leak has revealed the machinations of the White House Iraq Group in its lies and selling of the invasion of Iraq no matter what. His conclusion? It's Bush-Cheney, Not Rove-Libby!!!!

Unfortunately the New York Times has put Frank Rich behind the subscription wall, but large sections of his article can be read at After Downing Street. Here is a sample:
Very little has been written about the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG. Its inception in August 2002, seven months before the invasion of Iraq, was never announced. Only much later would a newspaper article or two mention it in passing, reporting that it had been set up by Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff. Its eight members included Mr. Rove, Mr. Libby, Condoleezza Rice and the spinmeisters Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin. Its mission: to market a war in Iraq.

Of course, the official Bush history would have us believe that in August 2002 no decision had yet been made on that war. Dates bracketing the formation of WHIG tell us otherwise. On July 23, 2002 - a week or two before WHIG first convened in earnest - a British official told his peers, as recorded in the now famous Downing Street memo, that the Bush administration was ensuring that "the intelligence and facts" about Iraq's W.M.D.'s "were being fixed around the policy" of going to war. And on Sept. 6, 2002 - just a few weeks after WHIG first convened - Mr. Card alluded to his group's existence by telling Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times that there was a plan afoot to sell a war against Saddam Hussein: "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
The layers of the onion are being peeled back, and we are soon to see how the war in Iraq was desired by Bush and Cheney, and how the members of the WHIG implemented that desire. Joe Wilson was a major threat to their plans, so he had to be dealt with. Thus, his wife's covert status as a CIA officer was pushed to the news outlets.

We're just going to have to wait and see what Fitzgerald has made and is making of all this. It appears to me that this situation has the potential to make Watergate look like a minor incident in comparison.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

How well has Bush's foreign policy worked?

Billmon provides a summary of the various losses and weaknesses. The Chronicle of Higher Education provides a surprising example.

It there is a postive aspect, I have yet to see it. No one could have done worse than the Bush administration has, and the new reports on inflation and rising oil prices suggest that the same is true for domestic policy.

What caused the canal walls to collapse in New Orleans?

The Times-Picayune makes an interesting story of a technical report. This is the key, though.
The canal walls consist of a concrete cap on a steel sheet pile base, driven 17 ½ feet deep at 17th Street and 16 feet deep at London Avenue, corps design documents show. Bea said the soil boring data shows the peat layer starts about 15 feet to 30 feet beneath the surface and ranges from about 5 feet to 20 feet thick.

Signs of trouble appear in graphs in the corps' soil data showing the "shear strength" of the soil, its ability to resist deformation and lateral motion. In one boring, at 27 feet, the soil strength is near the bottom of the scale, about 0.02 tons per square foot. Eight feet deeper, the strength is 0.25 tons per square foot, more than 10 times greater. At 70 feet, the strength even greater: 0.6 tons per square foot.

The data also show the soil at the peat level has a high water concentration. Put together, those data indicate it would be very vulnerable to the stresses of a large flood, Bea said.

At 17th Street, the soil moved laterally, pushing entire wall sections with it. Bea and other engineers say that as Katrina's storm surge filled the canal, water pressure rose in the soil underneath the wall and in the peat layer. Water moved through the soil underneath the base of the wall. When the rising pressure and moving water overcame the soil's strength, it suddenly shifted, taking surrounding material -- and the wall -- with it.

"Think of a layer cake. In the middle I've got my icing. All of a sudden, I push on the top of my piece of cake, and what it's moving on is this weak, slick icing. The whole thing moves," said Thomas Zimmie, a civil engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who is on the National Science Foundation team and surveyed the levees this week.[...]

Bea said that while the investigators have theorized the corps missed the peat layer in soil tests before the wall was built, the data they now have shows the peat would be hard to miss.

"The soil profile that we've got in front of us is showing that peat layer is large in extent, not narrow. They are mapping it between multiple borings. My suspicion, or fear, that they had missed it between two borings is not justifiable. It looks like it's about a thousand feet wide. That used to be a swamp. We built levees and cut canals in it, but never went in there and took out the peat."
Someone tried to skimp on the cost of the walls lf the canal in my opinion.

NY Times expected to provide extensive report on Miller

Ariana Huffington provides information on what the report in the New York Times Sunday edtion will be like. A lot of people in the Miller camp are conserned that it will be hard on her.
"The team of reporters working on the story is absolutely top notch," a Times source told me. "Don Van Atta is one of the best investigative reporters in the country.
It is predicted to be a tough report.

Karl Rove questioned for 4 1/2 hours by Grand Jury

The Grand Jury Questioned Karl Rove for about 4 1/2 hours about discrepencies between his earlier answers and what others have testified to. The Washington Post has the story.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Why should anyone trust Bush?

There is in fact no reason, because he is out for himself first, and will temporarily help anyone who can provide him a benefit. He absolutely lacks any sense of social conscience or recognition of noblesse oblige. Think that is an over statement? Here is Bob Burnett writing at Huffington Post:
Two recent news stories graphically illustrate the nature of Bush rules. It’s been well documented that the Administration was indifferent to the tragedy wrought by Hurricane Katrina, until there was an enormous public outcry. What hasn’t been talked about is the contrast between this occasion and their response to Hurricane Frances in September of 2004. Two months before the presidential election, Frances was threatening Florida, with its 27 electoral votes, and the Bush Administration leaped into action. The National Guard was mobilized and federal-state-non-profit task force was launched – before Frances hit. Bush rules dictated that the Administration had to perform well in this time of crisis, because it represented a political opportunity. Katrina didn’t command the same urgency as it didn’t occur in an election year – Bush was making speeches in California on the day the Hurricane hit the Gulf Coast.
See what I mean?

NY Times in suspense over Judy Miller

Judy Miller may well be much worse for the reputation of the New York Times than Jason Blair ever was. Her false and misleading reporting on WMD's and her presentation of the NeoCom/Chalabi case for war in Iraq with no balance was almost pure propaganda for the Bush administration.

Worse, since she went to jail to conceal her source in the White House it has become clear that her motivations were to protect herself and Libby from legal repercussions rather than any prinicpled stand on Journalistic ethice.

Then there is the fact the NY Times intself has not reported on the entire issue. The WSJ, Washingto Post and LA Times have not been so restrained. The problem here seems to go to the publisher, "Pinch" Sulzberger, who put the entire reputation of the Newspaper behind Miller's stand to protect her source. As a result, the editors are afraid to report anything for fear that it will anger their boss. They are frozen in place, silent.

Jay Rosen writing at the Huffington Post provides more depth.

Only 2% of Blacks approve of Bush's Presidency

This is from an NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll. No other President has ever had such a low approval rating with Blacks. Ever.

Similarly, The same poll shows that 48% of Americans would prefer to have the Democrats controlling Congress to 39% who prefer that the Repulbicans control Congress. This is the largest gap between the parties recorded in the 11 years the poll has been asking this question.

65% think the investigations into Tom DeLay suggest that there has been illegal activity, and 57% have similar feelings about Frist after the investigations into insider trading have started.

This may be a year too early for these results to be as useful as we would all hope.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Judy Miller was central to the lies that took both U.S and Britain into war in Iraq

Digby reports that there are tight connections between Judith Miller and both the organized set of lies presented by the Bush administration and the similar set of lies presented to his country by Tony Blair to take their respective countries into the quagmire in Iraq.

Judy Miller was in the middle of both government operations and wrote none of it. Not exactly the behavior of a reporter.

The reason we can't win in Iraq

Steve Gilliard has the story which demonstrates how America has failed to create a unified Iraq.

In order for America to win we have to have a unified national Iraqi army in place to replace the American soldiers we are having more and more difficulty keeping In Iraq.

But the Sunnis do no like or respect the Shiites, and as the military under Saddam they were the people who attacked and killed the southern Shiites as much as they could. Now the insurgents, presumably the al Qaeda ones under al Zarqawi have been specifically attacking Shiite civilians attempting to start a Sunni - Shiite civil war.

It's working. The Shiites have been joining the Iraqi army to defend themselves and are using their equipment and training against the Sunnis.
The Shiite troops are angered both by the thousands of Shiites who were killed and buried in mass graves during Saddam's Sunni-backed rule and by the huge number of Shiite casualties suffered from fighting Sunni insurgents.


"Every man we've had killed and wounded is because of that mosque. Thousands and thousands of Shiites are being killed, which is why they're joining the army," Sabri said. "Just let us have our constitution and elections in December and then we will do what Saddam did - start with five people from each neighborhood and kill them in the streets and then go from there."

Asked if he worried about possible fighting between his men and the Sunnis at Umm al Qura, the brigade's command sergeant major, Hassan Kadhum, smiled.

"Your country had to have a civil war," he said. "It will be the same here. Everything in this world has its price. In Iraq the price for peace will be blood."

Kadhum thought the matter over for a few more moments.

"There will be a day when we take that mosque and make it an army headquarters," Kadhum said.
As I say, it is working.

When we leave, which Bush will do mostly before the November 2006 election in America, we will leave behind us a nasty, no-hold-barred Civil War.

Iran will support the Shiite militia which will also be the Iraqi military we have trained, and no one there is going to like the Americans.

It isn't set in stone that this will happen - except for one thing. The Bush administration still has no one with the smarts to keep it from occurring. This administration simply is not sufficiently in touch with reality to deal with anything as complex as Iraq, Iran and the Middle East.

Turnout and Tipping Points

Steven M. Teles writes on Mark A. R. Kleiman about the malaise felt by Republicans. They are likely to have fewer people knocking on doors to get turnout, and those they do find are likely to be less motivated and hence, less effective. That means both weak incumbents and potential opponents will know that turnout is not as likely to save the incumbent.

This is going to encourage weaker Republicans to retire, and better Democrats to enter the race to defeat the Republicans.

Teles postulates that there will be a tipping point at which these trends begin to make it look like the Democrats are going to retake the House, and he is looking for indicators that would demonstrate that such a tipping point was near or has occurred.

I think it is an interesting hypothesis, and I'll also be looking for such evidence.

CIA faults administration for ignoring Intelligence before the Iraq War.

When George Tenet left the CIA he commissioned a series of three reports on how Intelligence did about predicting event in Iraq and how the administration used that Intelligence. This report discussed by USA Today is the first of the three declassified. It was completed in Summer of 2004 but not released until after the election.
By John Diamond, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — A newly released report published by the CIA rebukes the Bush administration for not paying enough attention to prewar intelligence that predicted the factional rivalries now threatening to split Iraq.

Policymakers worried more about making the case for the war, particularly the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, than planning for the aftermath, the report says. The report was written by a team of four former CIA analysts led by former deputy CIA director Richard Kerr.

"In an ironic twist, the policy community was receptive to technical intelligence (the weapons program), where the analysis was wrong, but apparently paid little attention to intelligence on cultural and political issues (post-Saddam Iraq), where the analysis was right," they write.
Did the White House trust the imagery analysts more than the cultural and historical analysts, or did they just selectively use the resultst that agreed with what they wanted to say?

The first is the polite interpretation, but the second is probably the truth.

Bush administration ignores CIA report on Iraq

Why is the media not reporting the good news from Iraq? Because there isn't much to report assuming they could get out to investigate and survive to report back.
(CBS/AP) The National Intelligence Council presented President Bush this summer with several pessimistic scenarios regarding the security situation in Iraq, including the possibility of a civil war there before the end of 2005.

In a highly classified National Intelligence Estimate, the council looked at the political, economic and security situation in the war-torn country and determined that - at best - stability in Iraq would be tenuous, a U.S. official said late Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

At worst, the official said, were "trend lines that would point to a civil war." The official said it "would be fair" to call the document "pessimistic."

The intelligence estimate, which was prepared for Mr. Bush, considered the window of time between July and the end of 2005. But the official noted that the document draws on intelligence community assessments from January 2003, before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent deteriorating security situation there.


This latest assessment was performed by the National Intelligence Council, a group of senior intelligence officials that provides long-term strategic thinking for the entire U.S. intelligence community.

Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin and the leaders of the other intelligence agencies approved the intelligence document, which runs about 50 pages.

The estimate appears to differ from the public comments of Mr. Bush and his senior aides who speak more optimistically about the prospects for a peaceful and free Iraq. "We're making progress on the ground," Mr. Bush said at his Texas ranch late last month.
The Bush administration has been telling the public what it wants us to believe, not what the facts support regarding Iraq.

We were lied before the war, we were lied to about the war, we have been repeatedly lied to about the occupation and the American-imposed Iraqi government, and Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld continue to lie to us about Iraq.

Sometimes consistency is NOT a virtue.

No waiting lists for surgery in the U.S.? Bullshit!

Go read the story here.

Scorpions sting. Republicans lie and steal. Nature of the beast.

Economic trouble coming

The American economy is not producing anything. The economy is based on asset prices, and when those assets decline in value, as they inevitably must, the consumers will quit buying and the economy will go into recession.

Bondad has the story and references at MyLeftWing.

It should also be considered that right now demand for oil in the U.S. is at a low, after Summer vacation and just prior to cold weather up north that will require a lot of heating oil. World-wide, supply of oil is barely meeting current demand and there is no excess oil available to come onto the market, even in Saudi Arabia.

Gas and oil prices are going up within a few weeks when it gets cold. The economy will then start slipping into recession, with unemployment and interest rates both going up. The term is "stagflation", last seen in the late 70's and early 80's until Jimmy Carter's appointee to the Federal Reserve Board, Paul Volker, put the country through a three year-long recession to wring the inflation out.

The major cause will be the profligate spending of the Republicans together with their tax cuts. Without those two pieces of bad judgment, the federal government could use fiscal policy methods as described by Keynes to ease the recession and hold down interest rates and inflation.

This is what Republican mismanagement has brought our nation to. They have done as badly or worse than the Generals who ruled Argentina.

Towards a Democratic strategy for the 2006 election

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson continue to provide the results at Kevin Drum of their research into what it will take for the Democrats to return to power.

Needless to say I very much agree with what they have to say. The election of November 2006 appears to be one where the Democrats will have a lot of advantqes on the issues and perhaps in quality of the candidates. The structural advantages still belong to the Republicans, however.

First, Democrats have to overcome the big GOP advantages in the House and Senate that we’ve already described. In neither chamber is it enough to win 51 percent of the vote nationwide.

Second, Democrats have a far harder time achieving unity than Republicans do. Sixty-two percent of senators, after all, reside in states that went “red” in the 2004 presidential race, even though Bush got only 51 percent of the vote. That means Democrats have a bigger challenge when they try to bring together members of their coalition who face very different local electoral conditions. Moreover, this problem is exacerbated because GOP agenda control can and is used to create wedge issues for Democratic politicians. Without an ability to control the agenda, it is far more difficult for Democrats to return the favor.

Critics of the Democrats urge them to fight fire with fire—to match Republican unity with Democratic unity. But these critics need to remember that just because the majority party has used the tools of government and an extensive network to create a parliamentary-style party, it doesn’t logically follow that the minority party can do the same. On the contrary, a politician like Joseph Lieberman or John Breaux often gets (thoroughly undeserved) plaudits for defecting.

Third, there have been a big shift in organizational and financial resources that has disadvantaged and divided Democrats. The last few decades have witnessed a dramatic alteration in the balance of power between labor and business, a vast increase in economic inequality, and a tremendous expansion in the significance of political money. The profound imbalances created by these huge but gradual changes is often lost in the discussion of personalities and tactics that dominate reporting on politics. All of these trends have helped the GOP, while creating cross-cutting pressures on Democrats and sapping the party’s strength.

Most of these features can’t be changed in the short run. So, in the end, one is led back to a discussion of electoral and political strategy. But any discussion of strategy is bound to short-circuit if it doesn’t acknowledge these deeper features of the political terrain, and in the longer-term, broader political reform is a must. There are lots of easy answers floating out there. There just aren’t any good easy answers.

Read a good review of the Plame affair

Howard Fineman of NBC has published a good, clear review of the exposure of CIA officer Valerie Plame to the right-wing columnist Bob Novak together with Karl Rove's apparent involvement. The risk that Rove will be indicted for his actions by the Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald is covered well.

Murray Waas provides latest updates on what Libby told and did not tell the Grand Jury.

Editor & Publisher discusses Judy Miller's return visit to testify again before the Grand Jury.

The Wall Street Journal discusses how the latest testimony of Miller appears to indicate that Fitzgerald is widening the scope of his investigation.

Read the items above, then read EmptyWheel's detailed analysis of why he thinks Fitzgerald is going after Dick Cheney himself. [If you have gotten this far and looked at the links, you are an obsessive Plame Affair junkie, and you really NEED the fix EmptyWheel is providing!]

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Democratic Contract for America is coming soon!

I've been asking for this document for months.

Seeing an opening to reach voters while Republicans are beset by turmoil, House Democrats are privately planning to accelerate the timing of the release of their platform and the major policies they will promote on the campaign trail next year.[...]

An early draft of the agenda outlines the specific initiatives House Democrats will pledge to enact if given control of the House. Leaders have been working on the document for months, and have already started encouraging Members to unify around it and stick to its themes.

Among the proposals are:

  • "real security" for America through stronger investments in U.S. armed forces and benchmarks for determining when to bring troops home from Iraq;
  • affordable health insurance for all Americans;
  • energy independence in 10 years;
  • an economic package that includes an increase in the minimum wage and budget restrictions to end deficit spending; and
  • universal college education through scholarships and grants as well as
  • funding for the No Child Left Behind act.

    Democrats will also promise
  • to return ethical standards to Washington through bipartisan ethics oversight and tighter lobbying restrictions,
  • increase assistance to Katrina disaster victims through Medicaid and housing vouchers,
  • save Social Security from privatization and
  • tighten pension laws.
This is it. The Democrats are going to nationalize the election in 2006 and they are taking steps to unify to accomplish it.

The only significant thing I see missing is a promise to investigate war profiteering.

Will Libby's Lawyer be indicted for obstruction?

Murray Waas has reported another of his outstanding articles on the Plame case.

In this article he describes how Judy Miller went to jail for 80 some days to avoid testifying to the Grand Jury about what her source told her regarding Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA officer. Miller went to jail, she said, because while "Scooter" Libby had given her a general release that said any reporter could testify to anything he said, she felt that since Libby would have been fired from the White House had he not signed it, it was signed under duress. Libby finally sent her a letter and told her the release was valid, and then spoke to her by phone telling her the same thing, so that Miller has now been released from jail and has testified regarding what she knows.

So why did it take nearly three months with her in jail for Libby to let her know she could testify? Seems like that should have happened within days of the contempt judgment.

Miller's attorney, Floyd Abrams, stated that Libby's attorney, Joseph A. Tate,
had indicated to him that Libby had considered the general waiver by its very nature to have indeed been coercive. "In our conversations," Abrams wrote to Tate, "you did not say that Mr. Libby's written waiver was uncoerced. In fact, you said quite the opposite. You told me that the signed waiver was by its nature coerced and had been required as a condition for Mr. Libby's continued employment at the White House. You compared the coercion to that inherent in the effective bar imposed upon White House employees asserting the Fifth Amendment. A failure by your client to sign the written waiver, you explained, like any assertion by your client of the Fifth Amendment, would result in his dismissal. You persuasively mocked the notion that any waiver signed under such circumstances could be deemed voluntary."
Tate denies that he said any such thing.

If, however, there is evidence found by Fitzgerald that Tate did make such statements designed to prevent Miller from testifying, then that is legal obstruction of an on-going investigation.
A senior Justice Department official said in an interview that "any affirmative statement or action" that "would discourage Miller might be construed to be an obstruction of justice." The official, who has no direct involvement with the Plame probe, requested to speak on the condition of anonymity due to the political sensitivity of the investigation. "Any thorough prosecutor is going to look long and hard at that," the official said.

Dan Richman, a professor at Fordham Law School and a former federal prosecutor for the southern district of New York, said in an interview that while he could not speak specifically as to what occurred between Tate and Abrams, "[A]n attorney encouraging a witness to withhold information from a grand jury when the witness had no right to withhold is engaging in obstructive behavior."

Richman suggested that because Fitzgerald has already been investigating allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice by officials of the Bush administration, the prosecutor might be motivated to examine additional evidence of such conduct because it might demonstrate a pattern of behavior.
Looks like Tate could be named in one of the indictments when Fitzgerald finishes his investigation.

The Grand Jury term is up October 31, 2005, so it will be soon. Sort of like waiting for Christmas.

What's next for the economy?

James Cramer describes in the New York Magazine what the inevitable result will be of Bush's out of control spending and ridiculous tax cuts.
For the longest time, because Bush is a Republican, we on Wall Street simply didn’t believe that he could be a reckless spender. We knew only two paradigms: You either spent less and cut taxes or you spent more and raised taxes. Both courses at least presumed some sacrifice at some time. Not Bush’s plan. He’s gone on both the biggest spending binge and the lowest taxation course in U.S. history, which, alas, will produce gigantic liabilities down the road. Of course, he’ll be back on the ranch by the time his successor will have to deal with his inflation and currency debasement. Our only hope that financial disaster won’t strike sooner lies with the Chinese, who actually fund our deficit by buying our Treasuries—$242 billion worth, or 12 percent of all foreign holdings. If the Chinese decide to be good communists and stop buying our bonds, the Feds will have to raise rates to attract new investors and the reaper will be at our doorstep with interest rates more akin to those of South than North America. Right now, it’s not a problem. But in a year or two or maybe less, I perceive that the government will throw a bond auction and nobody will show, including the Chinese, until rates shoot up dramatically.

What if that happens? What if our fiscally clueless president really does keep spending at a rate that far exceeds what our government can take in at these low tax rates? What happens if the president’s acolytes and the Pollyannas in Treasury keep believing that we can grow our way, fairy-tale-like, out of this jam? You can bet that when you cash out your nest egg of nice U.S.-based mutual funds and solid common stocks, your dollars will fit nicely into a wheelbarrow designed specifically to cart worthless currency to the bank.

Or you can take matters into your own hands and build a portfolio around these five imminent-Bush-disaster stocks. Be the first on your block to immunize yourself against what may turn out to be the most financially reckless president in history with these anti-inflation equities designed to profit from our president’s unbelievably foolish Panglossian profligacy.

Any portfolio designed to counter government-mandated inflation has to be bedrocked in gold, and there is no gold outfit that can rival Goldcorp, known as Gigi on Wall Street for its GG symbol. Gigi is on pace to produce 1.1 million ounces of the precious metal this year, with a finding cost of $60 per ounce (significantly lower than the industry standard). While Gigi is wildly profitable with gold at $465—you didn’t know gold had shot up that much lately? Well, what did you expect with this deficit?—I figure gold could reach $1,000 if the Chinese stop buying our paper. Once the levee to the Treasuries breaks, the easy high ground worth gaining will be gold. Gigi’s got no debt and is incredibly well run—the only gold stock you will ever need. Oh, and like all the companies in this portfolio, it’s not based in the United States, so it’s less tied to the health of the U.S. economy and the strength of the dollar. What a godsend!

When paper gets debased, you can’t have enough minerals, gold or otherwise, in your stock basket. That’s why I think you should shell out $160 a share for Rio Tinto, the world’s largest mineral seller—it produces silver, copper, iron ore, coal, diamonds, and even zircon (what New York society may be stuck wearing if government spending stays unchecked). Minerals keep their value during periods of inflation, and Rio Tinto has become the chief supplier for China’s industrial revolution.
Cramer also has three other recommendations.
You need Total, the French Foreign Legion of oil companies. Whether it’s building nuclear power plants to generate electricity or steam to blast oil out of the ground in Canada, or drilling in Iran and Myanmar—two places we aren’t all that welcome—Total’s got your bases covered for the surge in crude.[...]

Using pioneering techniques, Sasol’s got the only gas-to-liquids technology that can save the Free World from our insatiable thirst. Of course, it can’t make enough of the darned stuff, but what it can make, it will be able to charge a fortune for. Added bonus: Sasol’s located in Johannesburg, so be sure to take your 2.6 percent dividend and leave it in Krugerrands in South Africa.

I like Fording Canadian Coal Trust because it yields 14 percent and has long-lived reserves that will certainly outlast this administration. It would help if you were domiciled in Canada, a nation also once known for its profligacy but now a beacon of fiscal sanity, because then you wouldn’t get dinged by Uncle Sam’s Canadian withholding tax (generally 15 percent). That way, you could take the dividend in the very strong loonie, long a laughingstock currency until this president decided that debasing the greenback is just one more acceptable casualty of making sure that the rich get richer with extremely low taxes. Thanks, Mr. President!
So there it is.

We can look for high interest rates and very high inflation, probably accompanied with increased unemployment. This is likely to begin significantly occurring within a year or two from now. But if you are part of the investing class, you can invest in minerals and stay ahead of inflation.

As in all stock recommendations, you should do your own homework. But the impending problem and the logic of defending your investments is here.

Personally, I own my own home with a fixed rate mortgage. Inflation will bail me out of the mortgage since my military pension is tied to the CPI and should increase with the rate of inflation.

I hope.

What caused the Century of Wars?

An individual in a comment on Kevin Drums’ blog stated the conservative belief that the only nations in the twentieth century which killed millions of their own people were Socialist states, in which group he includes Nazism. At a rather simple level that is not a bad association, but it ignores the real underlying reason why the twentieth century is now known as the Century of War.

Let me start with describing how social activities have been controlled in human societies. There are only three major ones, and they developed one after the other historically.

The first form of social control was tradition and routine. It was how hunter-gatherers organized their society.

The second came in with the agriculture revolution and its associated cities. It was the command method. Tradition did not go away, but command control was necessary to deal with associations with people who you were not related to. Jared Diamond provides a good brief description of this social development in his book "Guns, Germs and Steel." He also describes the development of taxation to support the aristocracies in Agricultural societies.

The third is market control which became central to society when the mercantile revolution was transformed into the industrial revolution by the development of the factory system. For factories to work there had to be free markets for the outpu8t, and the land, labor and capital all had to be provided by markets. This is still brand new, and society has not yet gotten over the social effects of turning people and land into marketable commodities called labor, land and capital.

A clear characteristic of market based societies is that there are two types of organization. One is market based and the other is government which is command based. (Keep always in mind that organizations which are market-based externally are command-based internally. That is where the bureaucracy comes from in large organizations, and it is required in any organization that is so large that one person cannot know everyone in it. Roughly that is 200 people.)

Nor, according to Hernando de Soto, ("The Mystery of Capital") have the non-first-world nations learned how to turn property into marketable capital. This is a social problem that has to be solved to permit industrial capitalism to work in the old Communist and third world nations.

Note that there is still a great deal that is done because of tradition and command systems. Note also that Society is not the same as government. Government is merely a system of command bureaucracy that can control some elements of society and the economy. It is the only system that allows men to plan and work to change macro-economic and large social changes.

The economy is also not society. In its factory-system form it is very destructive of existing social traditions and human social status systems. The classic book on this is Karl Polanyi's "The Great Transformation." Just one example, the economy has no place for families and children except as consumers and labor. We no longer permit child labor because it is so destructive of people. But we enforce that restriction by the only system possible, government and the command system.

Socialism was a reaction of society that began in the late 18th century to the very destructive actions of the factory system. Yes, it does depend on the command system rather than markets, a weakness now admitted by socialists the world over. But when the new and experimental market and factory based economy destroys a lot of social systems and lives, it is rational to retreat to the tried and true command system.

The many large wars of the twentieth century have been primarily reactions to the attempts to advance the free market system into traditional societies. Globalism is the current incarnation of that expansion, and the reaction against Globalism is perfectly rational. Globalism today is a direct descendent of the efforts of the British and Americans to expand trade throughout the world. The sale of British cloth in India was an early example, and Commodore Matthew Perry’s fleet to “open up” Japan in 1853 is another. The 19th century carving up of China and the resulting Boxer Rebellion was another.

Violence and rejection have been the first reaction to the expansion of industrial society all over the world. Socialism is one form of reaction to that advance. So is fundamentalist religion, both here in the U.S. and in the Islamic and Buddhist worlds.

After WW I the European world and Japan all retreated largely into command societies as a reaction to the disaster caused by Capitalism and Laissez Faire economic theories which we call the Depression. Spain, Japan, Italy, and Germany went to command societies with a corporate theme, while the USSR went to a command society with a Communist theme. The only place that got it right was in the U.S., where the system of checks and balances and the tradition of avoiding a military command government led FDR to modify capitalism rather than establish a form of command society. WW II was fought to destroy the German, Italian and Japanese forms of command corporatism, and the Cold War was conducted to allow the USSR to collapse from its internal contradictions.

The association of socialist governments with killing mass numbers of people is a good one at a rather simple level, but the actual association is to the expansion of the factory system and laissez faire economics it requires into more traditional societies.

The adoption of socialism without markets has been shown to be a failed form of economics. That is why the Chinese have abandoned it and are moving to a market based society. But Socialism as a theory is not the cause of wars and killing. It is a reaction to the massive social changes that have been occurring world wide because of Industrialism. But Islamo-Fascism and the American Fundamentalist so-called Christianity are also reactions to the same set of social changes.

Europe may have done a better job of adapting society to the demands of the factory system, but it requires government regulations. We avoid the regulation here and have a possibly better economy but a worse society and control by litigation rather than government fiat. Litigation is inherently a lot more expensive than government fiat.

This is an essay on world history, with all the limitations of attempting something on such a broad scale. But I think there is a real core idea here that needs discussion. I am working out these ideas and I would appreciate any comments and especially criticisms by anyone who thinks I have gotten it wrong.

The description of Traditional, Command and Market based social control is found in Robert L. Heilbroner's book "The Worldly Philosophers" updated seventh Edition (1999).

Why the Republicans will retain Congress in 2006.

The current scandals and clear incompetence caused by the Republicans have placed a number of Republicans in House districts in risk of losing to Democrats in 2006. That's what the polls say, and there are reports the Republicans are unhappy and the Democrats are looking forward to the election.

The comparisons to the 1974 off-year election after Watergate have been thrown around.

While I like all this, 2006 will not be 1974 again. A lot has changed. I have been previously writing about the national Republican political machine. I think the Republicans are in a much stronger position nationally than they were in 1974.

Kevin Drum has Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson (authors of "Off Center") blogging on their book. Here is a quote from today's discussion. Anyone who has read my previous analysis of the Republican political machine here will see that they have written a great deal that I was trying to get to.
First, as regular readers of this site (Kevin Drum) are aware, incumbents are unbelievably advantaged in the current electoral system. For House incumbents, the average margin of victory in 2004 was forty percent (i.e., 70-30). The last two elections have seen the fewest incumbent defeats in American electoral history—four in 2002, and five in 2004 (with two of those a result of the DeLay-led Texas gerrymander). Most districts are very safe for one party or the other (in part because of gerrymandering, but primarily because many areas of the country lean heavily to one party). In addition, of course, incumbents have huge advantages in funding, name recognition, and the capacity to tailor an appealing (if often grossly distorted) public profile in their district. These advantages seem to have grown dramatically, and they help to explain why even in the small number of districts where one party has a huge natural advantage, only open seat races between the parties are typically in play. Once a candidate has won one or two elections, they are usually very safe.

Second, over and above these huge assets of incumbency (which disproportionately help the GOP, since they’re the majority), Republicans have a number of big structural advantages that make that electoral mountain higher still. They have been better positioned to gerrymander seats to give them a bigger edge, and more aggressive in doing so. (Between 2000 and 2004 alone, redistricting created roughly twelve additional Republican-leaning seats.) They have more money, and a more centralized apparatus to get that money where it is most needed in a close election. Probably most important but still not always appreciated, they have a huge built-in edge in the Senate because small states (which lean red) are so overrepresented. Democrats can win a lot more votes in Senate elections and still not gain control. In fact, they already have: Over the past three election cycles, the 44 Democrats in the Senate have received two-and-a-half million more votes than the 55 Republicans.

Finally, the high level of Republican unity and coordination that we have discussed helps the GOP protect these advantages. It helps them to control the agenda, which is absolutely crucial in politics. Ron Brownstein of the LA Times recently described contemporary Washington as akin to watching a basketball game where the same team always has the ball, or a baseball game where one team is always at bat. Unity allows Republicans to pursue a whole range of policy tricks and procedural moves that allow their members, especially the vulnerable ones, to appear moderate and independent without jeopardizing their conservative agenda at all.
I expect the Democrats to do well in 2006, but the number of close losses to the Republicans are going to be disappointing, in spite of the Republican corruption and proven incompetence.

The largest single reason is the unity of the Republican Party across the House, Senate, and Presidency and the way the party is supported by its own media propaganda outlets and the organization of lobbyists to shower money on the weakest candidates for office at critical times.

This strength in unity of the Republicans has been the perfect counter to the fact that the American people for the most part prefer Democratic Party policies. The problem with the Democrats is that they are an alliance, not a unified party, and strongly resist efforts to unify them. The free-lancing by Democratic Senators like Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman are perfect examples.

Democrats are going to have to unify as far as developing a Democratic equivalent to the "Republican Contract for America." They are also going to have to get more money to weaker candidates.

But as far as 2006 goes, the current split between the DLC moderates who want to move closer to the Republican positions on issues and the more liberal voters who want to set up clear opposing positions to those of the conservatives is involving a lot of Democratic in-fighting.

Essentially the two strategies are to either blur the difference between the Democrat and the Republican to appeal to the moderate voters, or to emphasize the differences and doing things like opposing the war and directly confronting the corruption and incompetence of the Republicans.

I see the 2006 elections as a laboratory to see which of those two positions are stronger. After 2006, the results will be in and the Democrats will then unify on the strategy to win the Presidency and both houses of Congress in 2008.

Monday, October 10, 2005

How bad is the new bankruptcy law?

The new bankruptcy law adds a large number of new documentation requirements and makes it more difficult to process ANY bankruptcy. It also allows no relief for people who have lost their documents - such as people from the Gulf Coast whose home was destroyed in a hurricane or flood.

Congress, in its great wisdom (and at the behest of its banking paymasters who wrote the bill in the first place) announced that it was a perfect bill as it was and nothing needed to be changed for the evacuees from the hurricanes.

Now the Justice Department has stepped in. They have announced "that it will waive enforcement of portions of the new bankruptcy law for Louisiana residents and some Mississippi residents."

Go to TPM Cafe where Elizabeth Warren (Bio) tells the story.

Why are conservatives so effective in American Politics?

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have written Why is American Politics Off Center?, and have been invited by Kevin Drum has invited them to discuss their book on his blog Political Animal. This following statement encapsulates what I have been writing about frequently.
It is crucial to remember, after all, that Republican electoral advantages have been very narrow. In many respects, Bush’s majority in 2001 was just the flip side of Clinton’s in 1992. Yet the GOP clearly had much more success in shifting the contours of American politics and policy.

In the face of a puzzle like this, the temptation is to search for a one-size-fits-all explanation. In response to Kevin’s post on Friday, a fair number of participants thought they had the single easy answer (“it’s framing!” or “it’s the use of cultural issues as a wedge!” or “it’s because Democrats are bumblers/cowards/sell-outs” or “it’s race”). There were probably a couple of dozen factors raised by one person or another, which strongly suggests that there's more than one thing at work. To us at least, it also suggests that what's crucial is how these different plausible GOP advantages actually come together in reinforcing the party's power.

Our own emphasis lies on the organizational and social foundations of political power, rather than on the character of personalities or particular rhetorical moves. In particular, we think a central source of GOP success lies in the unprecedented (within the contours of modern American politics) capacity of conservative elites to coordinate their activities and operate in a unified fashion.

In a political system that was specifically designed to prevent unified action, coordination is an enormous political advantage, helping the GOP to get the maximum value out of many of the advantages mentioned in Friday’s discussion. It makes it far easier to control the agenda (which is crucial in politics), to stay on message, to use legislative procedure (as well as even more obscure elements of policymaking) to pursue off-center goals while presenting a more moderate face to the public, to divide opponents, and to protect potentially vulnerable Republicans from exposure—as well as shower them with cash if all else fails. The capacity to work in an unusually unified way allows GOP elites to provide what we call backlash insurance—a variety of protections to politicians who might otherwise feel a need to be more responsive to public opinion.
In short, the conservatives do not have any overwhelming support in the electorate, but they have had an unusual degree of success in getting their agenda approved through our (intentionally) rather fragmented political process. While there are a number of individual factors that they use to get advantage, the single long-term advantage is their ability to act in a unified manner within a political system specifically designed to fragment political power and prevent exactly that kind of unified action.

It seems to me that this advantage hits exactly at the most significant weakness of Democratics and Progressives. They cannot act in a unified manner.

The counter to the conservative advantage, then, has to be to either unify the anti-conservatives politically or to change the structure of American politics so that the unification the conservatives have accomplished becomes impossible. I would expect the successful effort will have elements of a little unification and a lot of political restructuring.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

How did outing CIA agent Plame damage the U.S.?

Larry Johnson, an American intelligence agent who was in the same class as Valerie Plame describes the damage to the U.S. that occurred when Valerie Plame was exposed as a CIA officer by the White Hose in order to damage her husband, Joseph Wilson. From Truthout.
Friday 07 October 2005

Want to know one reason why the CIA has been unable to recruit spies? Just reflect on how a potential recruit would react to the outing of Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA operations officer.

The investigation into which administration officials compromised Plame, wife of former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, is nearing completion. Lost in the recent spurt of press reporting, however, is the fact that the outing of Ms. Plame (and, as night follows the day, her carefully cultivated network of spies) has done great damage to US clandestine operations - not to mention those she recruited over her distinguished career.

Ms. Plame, a very gifted case officer, was a close colleague of mine at the CIA. Her dedication and courage were made abundantly clear when she became one of the few to volunteer to assume the risks of operating under non-official cover - meaning that if you get caught, too bad, you're on your own: the US government never heard of you.

The supreme irony is that Plame's now-compromised network was reporting on the priority-one issue of US intelligence - weapons of mass destruction. Thus, it was made clear to all, including active and potential intelligence sources abroad, that even when high-priority intelligence targets are involved, Bush administration officials do not shrink from exposing such sources for petty political purpose. The harm to the CIA and its efforts to recruit spies instinctively wary of the risks in providing intelligence information is immense.

Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, Ambassador Wilson publicly exposed an important lie - and the president as liar-in-chief - when Wilson debunked reporting that Iraq was seeking uranium in the African country of Niger. Still, as Wilson himself has suggested, the primary purpose of leaking his wife's employment at the CIA was not so much to retaliate against him personally, but rather to issue a warning to others privy to administration lies on the war not to speak out. Administration officials felt they needed to provide an object lesson of what truth tellers can expect in the way of swift retaliation.

... and It Was All Based on a Forgery

Whether or not indictments come down, our domesticated mainstream media probably will continue to play down the damage to US intelligence. Even more important, they are likely to ignore completely the very curious event that started the whole business - the forging of documents that became the basis of reporting that Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger for its (non-existent) nuclear weapons program. Together with other circumstantial evidence, the neuralgic reaction of Vice President Dick Cheney to press reports that he was point man for promoting the bogus "intelligence" report suggests that he may also have been its intellectual author/authorizer.
George Bush puts "getting" one of his political opponents as being so important that he will sacrifice the long term safety of America to do it. That is beyond stupid. It is criminal.

The Fitzgerald investigation, soon to be completed and reported, will tell us who performed this idiocy and very likely indict the central parties.

Update on bird flu

DemFromCT at DKos provides an excellent summary of the recent week's writings on the bird flu.

If you have missed it, go read. It is very balanced and informative.

Marshall on Frank Rich about Harriet Miers

I haven't written about the Harriet Miers nomination because I don't know much about her or about the dynamics of the nomination. However, it now begins to expose the environment the White House sees itself in, the actual environment it is in, and how the White house behaves as a result.

I am, in fact, attempting to practice the art of Kremlinology - determining what must have led to the outcomes from the highly secret Kremlin White House based on public hints like who appears with who in public and who are allies and who are enemies.

Long and oblique intro. Sorry. But I want to refer you to Josh Marshall who starts with his discussion of a Frank Rich article at the New York Times, unfortunately behind their wall of secrecy (sort of like the "Cone of Silence" from the TV sitcom "Get Smart.") He speaks of Rich's Sunday column:
Two points grabbed my attention.

He hits on the tight connection in everything we're seeing between incompetence, state mendacity and incipient authoritarianism. They're not paradoxically or counter-intuitively combined. The connection is natural and self-reinforcing.

Also on the point of Harriet Miers. Something has happened here on the right that cannot be explained simply by Miers' unfitness for the job. Not after all we've seen over going on five years. The president has lost his credibility with them too. [...]

As the US has trundled down into the status of fiscal basket case over the last few years, that much-vaunted Republican fiscal discipline has been the dog which has never barked. A few meaningless remarks, the occasional hand-wringing from a conservative columnist. At the end of the day though every part of American conservatism has saluted and enabled the infamy.

But something is different here. Besides James Dobson this nomination has no supporters outside of the senate and the White House. And the conservative opposition isn't just opposing, it's contemptuous -- and critical in ways that mimic the long-expressed criticism from the other side of the aisle.
Marshall then goes on to discuss the dynamics of nominations and compares them to the dynamics of scandals. Interesting, and worth reading.

From my point of view, the whole thing exposed the isolation of the White House. It has been my opinion that Karl Rove was the single member of the triumvirate (Bush/Cheney/Rove) who has had a strong understanding of the political currents in America and was able to react to them. But he is clearly now being side-tracked by the Fitzgerald investigation and the threat of being indicted in the Plame outing.

Both Bush and Cheney feel entitled by their positions. They feel they do not have to ask anyone's permission to do anything. Harriet Miers appears to be entirely Bush's decision, based on his vaunted intuition and her history of loyalty to him over the last decade.

Rove would have anticipated the conservative reactions to her nomination, and would have somehow headed them off - or gotten another person nominated.

I have seen Rove as the glue that held the triumvirate together and connected it to political reality. Now the Bush administration is well into its most difficult period and Rove is at best disconnected, perhaps being phased out if he is indicted.

As Marshall points out, there is not yet any real group supporting the nomination of Miers. Marshall thinks that if there is not a strong active group defending her nomination she may not be confirmed. I think that Rove is still the key. If he can gin up that defending group, she will make it to the Supreme Court. If he doesn't, then the confirmation is really up in the air.

Good news. Truthout has posted Frank Rich's column, so that it can be read on line without paying the NY Times premium.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Earthquake in Pakistan

From today's New York Times:
By SOMINI SENGUPTA - ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sunday, Oct. 9

A powerful earthquake centered in the Hindu Kush mountains of Pakistan on Saturday morning sent tremors across South Asia, killing more than 18,000 people, including at least 1,600 in remote northern Pakistan, among them hundreds across both sides of disputed Kashmir, and shaking houses and high-rises throughout the region.

Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, Pakistan's chief army spokesman, who announced the toll on Sunday, said at least 45,000 people had been injured, a vast majority on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. He said that "so far there are many areas which have not been reached" by the army, but that military units were expected to reach all of them by the end of the day.

The quake was centered in the far-flung villages of the North-West Frontier Province.

More than 1,600 were believed to have been killed in that province alone, the provincial police control room reported Saturday night. That toll includes an estimated 650 children who were killed in the collapse of three different schools.

Estimates of the quake's magnitude varied from 6.8 to 7.8, with the United States Geological Survey putting the number at 7.6. Its epicenter was roughly 60 miles north of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, where 20 "significant aftershocks" measuring between 5 and 6.2 magnitude were felt throughout the day on Saturday, Dr. Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, director general of the Meteorological Department in Islamabad, said by telephone on Saturday evening. Officials warned that serious aftershocks could continue for two days.

The earthquake, which sent tremors as far east as New Delhi, the Indian capital, and west to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, was the biggest to strike the country in a century, Dr. Chaudhry said.

The top police official of the North-West Frontier Province, Riffat Pasha, said Saturday evening that the death toll there continued to rise and that relief efforts had been stymied by blocked roads and broken communication channels.
This is on top of the December 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which was the second-largest quake in recorded history. Add to that the hurricanes Katrina which hit New Orleans, Rita which hit western Louisiana and east Texas, and Stan which hit central America all in the last six weeks. This has been the worst 11 months for natural disasters that I can recall in the second half of the twentieth century and the first five years of the twenty-first. It must be some kind of record.

Did we humans just hit a stretch of bad luck? It this just a random set of events that are all bad and all close together in time, or is there some underlying cause?

I don't believe in coincidence, but I can't see any common cause.

Whatever, let's hope it is over. A lot of people are dead and injured all around the world.