Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Friedman's Quick Fix

Tom Friedman legitimately goes after U.S. automakers and their biggest enabler, GWB, declaring, "The sooner General Motors gets taken over by Toyota, the better off our country will be." Right on, Tommy-boy.

A Quick Fix for the Gas Addicts
By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
"You want to do something patriotic, G.M., Ford and Daimler-Chrysler? Why don't you stop using your diminishing pools of cash to buy votes so Congress will never impose improved mileage standards? That kind of strategy is why Toyota today is worth $198.9 billion and G.M. $15.8 billion. G.M. is worth just slightly more than Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle company ($13.6 billion).

President Bush remarked the other day how agonizingly tough it is for a president to send young Americans to war. Yet, he's ready to do that, but he's not ready to look Detroit or Congress in the eye and demand that we put in place the fuel-efficiency legislation that will weaken the forces of theocracy and autocracy that are killing our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan %u2014 because it might cost Republicans votes or campaign contributions.

This whole thing is a travesty. We can't keep asking young Americans to make the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan if we as a society are not ready to make even the most minimal sacrifice to help them."

Op ed reprinted (except for bastardized first sentence) here.

Photo credit: Thomas Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Live From Baghdad: More Dying

by Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
Even with constricted coverage, the tally of journalists killed in Iraq is now 71, more than the number killed in Vietnam or World War II.

Op ed reprinted here. (Thanks to The Peking Duck)

Photo credit: Maureen Dowd. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

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Is Gore The Man?

I'm a believer. So is Frank Rich of The New York Times--despite a critical perspective. What about you?

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Down and Hacked.

I want to apologize for the absence of posts over the last few days. Blogger has been acting up -- again. Unable to publish and hacked, I am in effect ostracized from my own blog. Drat.

You'll know by the increase in posts when things are working again. Until them, please accept my apologies.

Hope you all had a good Memorial Day Weekend and managed to avoid Rummy and Dubya's photo op, propaganda speeches this morning. They were the height of political pandering and manipulation. That they would stoop so low as to use a day that honors those who died for this country for their own political ends, they they would continue the lies about spreading freedom when they have single handedly taken away more of our freedoms than any administration in history--well, it makes me sick. And really, really angry.

Don't know about you, but I've had enough of Georgie boy. Can't take much more of him and his KaKa Cohorts. Please, can we just impeach the whole bunch of them already?

A Cheery End to Memorial Day Weekend:

Watch Bill Maher's "Impeach George Bush" here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Ooops. Took a Wrong Turn.

My vacation was going really swell, until I took a wrong turn somewhere in Texas and stopped to ask these nice fellas for directions.

Next thing I knew, The Big Dick himself whirled round on me (as much as a Big Dick can whirl) with rifle raised, finger itchin', and yours truly in the cross-hairs.

Wooooshhhh. I made like the Road Runner outta there.

Needless to say, I escaped with my face and body pellet-free. Wish I could be sure of the same for Dicky's hunting buddies....

So the Economy's Great, Huh?

Not according to the people I'm meeting and talking to.

Not according to a lot of my friends.

And not according to Bob Herbert.

Who Will You Vote For in 2008?

Are you ready for a political leader who doesn't pander, who is willing to talk about complicated issues and call for responsible policies? Or will you once again vote for a dishonest media creation?

In today's New York Times op ed, Paul Krugman tackles another kind of "inconvenient truth," concerning how each of us decides for whom to vote.

Take the Krugman Character Test: HERE

Hopefully you will pass the test and vote for me--or Al Gore should he decide to take another crack at it.

Aside from myself, Gore's the only one out there I would trust to clean up the current mess in DC, do a one-eighty, and point this country in a positive direction. And, to be perfectly honest, he has a lot more experience than I do.

Thanks to Tennessee Guerilla Women for providing the post. The original NY Times piece is here: A Test of Our Character by Paul Krugman

Also see: An Inconvenient Truth and Maureen Dowd: Enter Ozone Woman

Where I Am Not

One place you won't find me is here.

Who Will Be There?

Check it out here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Where in the World Am I?

GREETINGS, from the Unknown Candidate, enjoying a much needed vacation in an undisclosed location. Can you tell me where in the world I am?

Maybe he knows ...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Unknown Candidate Vacationing in Undisclosed Location

The Unknown Candidate has gone to unknown whereabouts for unknown reasons and is suspending any posting for an unknown period of time.

(No, the NSA isn't after me--yet, er, at least I hope not.)

If you happen to catch a glimpse of The Unknown Candidate during your own travels, please leave a clue to his whereabouts in the comment section. Better yet, send a picture!

If you happen to discover the Unknown Candidate's identity ... well, that would be most interesting ....


TAKE ACTION: Vote NO on the Federal Marriage Ammendment

From the Human Rights Campaign:
“As you all know, I don't believe in discriminating against anybody, but when it comes to traditional marriage, I draw the line.” – Sen. Orrin Hatch

This is just a taste of the latest hypocrisy to come from the radical right. Extremists are swarming to provoke support for their discriminatory Federal Marriage Amendment, and seem willing to stop at nothing. Click here to watch the Anti-FMA video and listen to what else they are saying.

TAKE ACTION: Kick The Oil Habit

Tell Big Oil to Support Renewable Fuels Like E85. More than five million American cars are already equipped to run on E85, a cheaper, cleaner, homegrown, renewable alternative to gasoline. Unfortunately, only about 600 of America's 170,000 gas stations currently offer this alternative fuel. Tell ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, Valero, and ConocoPhillips to double the number of E85 pumps over the next year and provide E85 at half of all gas stations within a decade.



Bush's Bloopers

In case you didn't catch it, click here to watch Bush's blooper reel, from Saturday Night Live and TV Funhouse.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Weekend Unknown Candidate Spotting?

Ted Goes Mercenary

Ted Koppel's op ed in today's NY Times should set off alarm bells in the hearts of those who prefer a culture of peace over one of war. I for one, am tired of talk of war, warriors, military strength, weapons, rent-a-forces, and the kind of myopic thinking that obsesses non-stop about all of them.

The Military-Industrial complex is alive and growing strong in Ted Koppel's brain.

And to think, way back when, I assumed Ted was a liberal Democrat.

These Guns for Hire
By Ted Koppel
The New York Times
THERE is something terribly seductive about the notion of a mercenary army. Perhaps it is the inevitable response of a market economy to a host of seemingly intractable public policy and security problems.

Consider only a partial list of factors that would make a force of latter-day Hessians seem attractive. Among them are these:

• Growing public disenchantment with the war in Iraq;

• The prospect of an endless campaign against global terrorism;

• An over-extended military backed by an exhausted, even depleted force of reservists and National Guardsmen;

• The unwillingness or inability of the United Nations or other multinational organizations to dispatch adequate forces to deal quickly with hideous, large-scale atrocities (see Darfur and Congo);

• The expansion of American corporations into more remote, fractious and potentially hostile settings.

Just as the all-volunteer military relieved the government of much of the political pressure that had accompanied the draft, so a rent-a-force, harnessing the privilege of every putative warrior to hire himself out for more than he could ever make in the direct service of Uncle Sam, might relieve us of an array of current political pressures.

In the areas of logistics and support, this proposition is already more than theoretical. In addition to the roughly 130,000 American troops now serving in Iraq, private contractors have their own army of approximately 50,000 employees performing functions that used to be the province of the military. The army used to cook its own meals, do its own laundry, drive its own trucks. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Pentagon reduced American armed forces by some 36 percent, anticipating a peace dividend that was never fully realized.

So, if there are personnel shortages in the military (and with units in their second and third rotations into Iraq and Afghanistan, there are), then what's wrong with having civilian contractors? Expense is a possible issue; but a resumption of the draft would be significantly more controversial.

Moreover, contractors provide the bodyguards (most of them veterans of the American, British, Australian, Nepalese or South African military) and, in some cases, the armored vehicles and even helicopters that have become so necessary for the conduct of business by foreign civilians in Iraq. Such protective services are employed by practically every American news agency and, indeed, are responsible for the security of the American ambassador himself.

So, what about the inevitable next step — a defensive military force paid for directly by the corporations that would most benefit from its protection? If, for example, an insurrection in Nigeria threatens that nation's ability to export oil (and it does), why not have Chevron or Exxon Mobil underwrite the dispatch of a battalion or two of mercenaries?

Chris Taylor, the vice president for strategic initiatives and corporate strategy for Blackwater USA, wanted to be sure I understood that such a thing could only happen with the approval of the Nigerian government and at least the tacit understanding of Washington. But could Blackwater provide a couple of battalions under those circumstances? "600 people in a battalion," he answered. "I could source 1,200 people, yes. There are people all over the world who have honorably served in their military or police organizations. I can go find honorable, vetted people, recruit them, train them to the standard we require."

It could have the merit of stabilizing oil prices, thereby serving the American national interest, without even tapping into the federal budget. Meanwhile, oil companies could protect some of their more vulnerable overseas interests without the need to embroil Congress in the tiresome question of whether Americans should be militarily engaged in a sovereign third world nation.

There are limits, of course. None of these security companies is likely to undertake the full-scale military burden presented by an Iran or a North Korea. But their horizons are expanding. Cofer Black, formerly a high-ranking C.I.A. officer and now a senior executive with Blackwater USA, has publicly said that his company would be prepared to take on the Darfur account.

At whose expense and to what ultimate end is not altogether clear. But Blackwater and other leading security companies are seriously proposing to officials at very high levels of the government that their private forces could relieve a number of the burdens now being shouldered (or not) by American troops. The underlying theory seems to be that where a host government is unable to protect American business interests overseas and where the American government may be reluctant or unable to intervene, there is another option conveniently available.

The Pentagon, which is anything but enamored of the prospect of private armies operating outside its chain of command, is nonetheless struggling to come to terms with what it now calls "the long war." There is every expectation that the fight against global terrorism and the most extreme forms of Islamic fundamentalism will last for many years. This is a war that will not necessarily require aircraft carriers, strategic bombers, fighter jets or heavily armored tanks. It will certainly not enable the United States to exploit its advantages in nuclear weapons.

It is a war, indeed, that favors the highly mobile and adaptive fighting skills of the former Special Forces soldiers and other ex-commandos who have already taken early retirement from the military in order to serve their country less directly, if more profitably.

The United States may not be about to subcontract out the actual fighting in the war on terrorism, but the growing role of security companies on behalf of a wide range of corporate interests is a harbinger of things to come. Is what's good for companies like Exxon Mobil, Freeport-McMoRan (the mining company that has paid the Indonesian military to maintain security) or even General Motors necessarily good for the United States?

The other morning on NBC's "Today" program, Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive of Exxon, was asked by Matt Lauer if his company would consider lowering profits to help consumers this summer. Mr. Tillerson had the good manners not to laugh. "We work for the shareholder," he said, adding, "Our job is to go out and make the most money for ... those people."

What then if the commercial interests of a company or foreign government hiring one of these security contractors comes into conflict with the interests of the United States government? Mr. Taylor of Blackwater doesn't even concede the possibility. "At the end of the day," he said, "we consider ourselves responsible to be strategic partners of the U.S. government." To which he then added, perhaps a little more convincingly: "If we went against U.S. government interests we would never get another contract."

It is, however, an evolving relationship that requires far greater scrutiny. There is, in the final analysis, no direct chain of command from the government to units of Blackwater or other security companies that have been hired by private corporations or foreign governments. Chris Taylor insists: "We are accountable. We are transparent." That's debatable. But, he adds: "Given the global war on terror, this is a way that a lot of these retirees (from the military) can contribute. We want to have a discussion into how we fit into the total solution set."

By all means. Let the discussion begin.

Criminal Injustice

Bob Herbert attacks the pervasive problems of our criminal justice system and society's indifference to injustice. You can read the entire article at Wealthy Frenchman here. Or click on the links below:

Justice Derailed
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times

Photo credit: Bob Herbert. (The New York Times)

Bush's Democratic Lap Dog

I'm speaking of course of Senator Joseph Lieberman, the subject of today's Paul Krugman NY Times op ed. Krugman details why Lieberman finds himself in serious political trouble, why there is a good chance he will be defeated in the midterm elections by an almost unknown challenger, and why that would be good news indeed for Democrats.

Read Krugman's op ed here. Or click on the NYT links below.

Talk-Show Joe
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Photo credit: Paul Krugman. (The New York Times)

Truthout vs. Team Rove: Update

For those following the Truthout-Rove Indictment story, Talk Left provides the latest and a reprint of Marc Ash's Truthout update (posted today at 12 noon, Pacific Time. Truthout servers are overloaded at present.)

No guarantees, but interesting stuff: Truthout vs. Team Rove: Round Two - TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime

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Sony Out-Roves Rove in 'Code'

Ahh, the games people play, especially politican people.

Frank Rich's insightful editorial in the NY Times upbraids Rovian Republican double-cross tactics along with the Democrats rather flat-footed attempts to emulate them. One would hope that after six years of such bait and switch schemes, voters won't be conned again--by either party.

Then again, Sony has been rather successful recently in employing the same techniques to cajole Christians into helping them market "The Da Vinci Code" "as a 'teaching moment' for Christian evangelists."

Pretty smart on Sony's part. But it doesn't say much for the astuteness of well-meaning Christians duped into supporting a film they would otherwise view as blasphemous. (Personally, I find the entire controversy about "The Da Vinci Code" to be ludicrous; it is a work of fiction, after all, and never pretends to be anything else.)

Yet "The Da Vinci Code" is, as Frank Rich asserts, "a perfect Hollywood metaphor for the American political culture of our day." -- and, regrettably, it brings to mind the lyrics from an old Pete Seeger song: "When will we ever learn? When will we e-ver learn?"

Click here to read Rich's op ed. Or click on the NYT links below:

The Rove Da Vinci Code
By Frank Rich
The New York Times

Photo credit: Frank Rich (The New York Times)

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The Big Sleep

And now...David Brooks, otherwise know as "The Big Sleep", lulls us into narcoleptic tedium as numbing as the Hayden hearings he describes.

The Big Sleep
By David Brooks
The New York Times
There once was a British aristocrat who had a nightmare that he was giving an extremely boring speech in the House of Lords. Then he awoke and discovered that indeed he was giving an extremely boring speech in the House of Lords.

If that dull aristocrat had proceeded to perish; if his corporeal remains had been reduced to ash; if these remains had been entombed in an impermeable case and placed in an empty, changeless landscape, he still could not have approached the tedium achieved by the Michael Hayden hearings before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week.

These hearings were the dullest event in the history of the universe since the creation of sedimentary rock. They were the sort of hearings doctors prescribe to patients who have developed nervous disorders from watching paint dry. If God does not exist, then the afterlife will be like an eternal watching of the Hayden hearings.

In fact, in terms of sheer soporificity, they achieved a certain narcoleptic greatness. An interaction among human beings — whose hearts were presumably beating and whose brain waves were presumably functioning — so lacking in normal human arousal deserves a show of respect.

And for this reason, the hearings must be investigated, for their dullness derived from three catatonic streams. It was, to twist the metaphor of a recent book, a perfect calm.

The first element in this calm was the rapid fizzling of the N.S.A. scandal. We have been treated in the past year to a panoply of anticlimactic frenzies. For example, we have seen the periodic flaring and the inevitable noneruption of the Valerie Plame affair. Every few weeks, perhaps coinciding with the full moon, the left half of the blogosphere will arise from its habitual state of paranoid rage and soar into a collective paroxysm of anticipatory glee over the thought of Karl Rove's imminent indictment. Alas, the indictment never comes.

But even by that standard, the fizzling of the N.S.A. scandal is remarkable. Most Americans seem to have looked at the facts and concluded that having to open your suitcase in the airport security line is a far bigger invasion of privacy than having your phone records in a list of four trillion numbers on a computer somewhere in an agency trying to fight terror.

Then at the hearing, General Hayden gave a sober and apparently thorough description of the safeguards in place to keep the information from being misused — of the checklists that career professionals must fill in before each investigative targeting, of the documentation that is kept, of the inspector general supervision and oversight. No Democrat challenged this procedure or showed much passion about the program at all.

The second cause of the dullness was General Hayden's obvious competence. The 19th-century journalist Walter Bagehot noted that the best government is dull. It consists of the regular implementation of minute decisions and requires no lofty appeals to emotion nor deep contentions of mind. By this standard, General Hayden is a public official par excellence.

He brings to the role of senior intelligence official a reassuring relish for epistemology, the ability to talk for seconds that seem like hours on inductive versus deductive reasoning and how an information bureaucracy should be organized. This is surely the cast of mind required atop the C.I.A.

Finally, there was a third tributary contributing to the hearing's catatonic calm, this one more troubling. You would never have known, as the epochs dragged by and the viewers fantasized about spontaneously combusting, that the United States had just suffered cataclysmic intelligence failures, that the C.I.A. was in crisis, that Americans' lives were at risk.

The committee members are supposed to oversee the intelligence agencies, but they sound as if they are part of the same culture. They speak in the same technical abstractions and engage in the same unreal thought.

"I would also work to more tightly integrate the C.I.A.'s S. & T. into broader community efforts to increase payoffs from cooperative and integrated research and development," General Hayden declared, setting the linguistic tone for the hearings. And the members nodded sagely along.

The one crack came toward the end of the event, when Senator Barbara Mikulski broke in and used normal words like "klutzy" to describe the crisis of management afflicting the agency. For an instant, eyes opened. Neurons nearly fired. But the intrusion of concrete thought did not last. The blanket of abstract dullness was deliciously restored.

Photo credit: David Brooks. (The New York Times)

Killer Cookies?

Nicholas Kristof declares war on the killer ingredient hiding inside those scrumptious, oh-so-American Girl Scout Cookies.

Killer Girl Scouts
By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
I've been taking my daughter around the block lately, helping her unload Girl Scout cookies on obliging neighbors — and wondering whether we're killing them.

The problem is that most of those Girl Scout cookies have trans fatty acids. Those are the worst kind of fat, killing far more Americans than Al Qaeda manages to.

Trans fats, those nasty partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, clog up your arteries, raising bad cholesterol and lowering good cholesterol. They are estimated to kill 30,000 Americans annually and maybe more.

One recent study linked trans fats to diabetes and other ailments and suggested that they might cause up to 228,000 heart attacks (including nonfatal ones) each year.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies suggested in 2002 that "trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible." A tolerable upper intake level, the report said, is zero.

Maybe it's unfair to pick on the Girl Scouts, because trans fats are all around us, from French fries to some brands of ice cream. And at least the Girl Scouts have taken trans fats out of some of their cookies (though of the eight kinds my daughter's Brownie troop sold, only Lemon Coolers and Tagalongs seemed to have none).

But that's the problem we have in risk assessments. There are certain kinds of risks — say, fears of Saddam Hussein — that galvanize us to mobilize an army and devote $1 trillion to confront the challenge. Meanwhile, we do nothing about threats that are much more likely to kill us — like trans fats peddled by cute little girls.

Actually, it's a pity that Girl Scout cookies are being sold by cherubs. If the sellers were Iranians with turbans and menacing frowns, then the authorities might be more alert to the dangers.

The Food and Drug Administration has required food companies to list trans fats in labels of packaged products, so companies are beginning to remove trans fats from their foods. Kraft, for example, has removed trans fats from all of its Oreos and many other foods.

But Americans now get 38 percent of their calories from restaurant food, and the F.D.A. so far has refused to require restaurants to disclose trans fat content. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a petition asking the F.D.A. to require restaurants to disclose the presence of trans fats in their foods, as well as another petition that would in effect come close to banning manufactured trans fats altogether.

Both moves make sense. Denmark, for example, has quite successfully adopted a law stipulating that no more than 2 percent of the fats in foods sold there can be industrially produced trans fats.

The result is that if you walk into a McDonald's in Copenhagen and order a large meal of chicken nuggets and French fries, you'll get just 0.33 grams of trans fatty acids. Walk into a McDonald's in the U.S. and order the same meal, and you get 10.1 grams of trans fats.

That was the finding of a study published last month in The New England Journal of Medicine. It found huge variations: an order of fries and chicken at KFC provided almost 25 grams of trans fats in Hungary, but negligible amounts in Denmark, Russia and Wiesbaden, Germany.

To put those numbers in perspective, just five grams of trans fats per day are associated with a 25 percent greater risk of a heart attack.

Prowl a supermarket, and you see that Pop Secret Butter Microwave Popcorn has 5 grams of trans fats per serving, Keebler Chips Deluxe cookies have 1.5 grams of trans fats per cookie, and Drake's Yodels and Ring Dings have 2 grams. At Denny's, carrot cake has 3 grams.

It's difficult for the food industry to claim that trans fats are unavoidable when the Danes manage to avoid them. And there's no justification for letting restaurants inflict them on us without informing us.

Look, there are a lot of risks that we can't do much about. Brain tumors, for example. Or plane crashes. Or foreign leaders who are absolutely determined to produce nuclear weapons. But trans fats kill more Americans than any of those, and they're very easy to protect against — so I hope the Bush administration will follow the Danish model and curb the use of trans fats.

And in the meantime (now that my daughter has finished selling her cookies), here's a step you can take: Set up a neighborhood watch team to be alert for little girls intent on clogging your arteries and killing you with their sweetness.

Photo credit: Nicholas D. Kristof. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Guantanamo is not "Compassionate", Mr. Bush

It's pretty simple: America cannot live its stated values while operating Guantanamo.

It shouldn't take the United Nations, for the second time this year, to shame our government into closing the prison. Marjorie Cohn writes:
"The UN Human Rights Commission criticized the US government for force-feeding hunger strikers there - calling it torture - and urged the United States to 'close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities without further delay.'"
The Committee Against Torture stated that it was concerned about "reliable reports of acts of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment committed by certain members of the [United States] military or civilian personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq," some of which resulted in death.

And yet our "compassionate conservative" leaders remain mum, even as three or four Guantanamo prisoners attempted suicide on Thursday.

Is this what America is fighting for?

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Graduating With Honor

In today's NY Times op ed, MoDo describes John McCain's jeeringly hostile greeting from students at the New School commencement, and in so doing, gives me hope for the younger generation.

Were the grads rude? Darned right.

Can you blame them? Hell, no--not after living under 6 years of the most blatantly, patronizing, untruthful, hypocritical government in our history--a government which John McCain has come to epitomize.

Should they be penalized for their rudeness? Just the opposite. They should be congratulated for graduating with honor.

Make Poetry, Not War
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
It was a rough crowd for agents of American imperialism.

At the New School commencement at Madison Square Garden's theater yesterday afternoon, dozens of the red-and-black-gowned graduates and some faculty were heckling, cackling, hissing, booing, jeering, whooping, bolting, turning their backs and holding up orange signs that read, "Our commencement is not your platform." As for John McCain, he spoke about how the "passion for self-expression sometimes overwhelms our civility."

"We're graduating, not voting," one young man yelled.

"This is all about you," another called out. "We don't care."

A little while after the senator quoted Yeats about the fleeting nature of beauty, a student sarcastically called out, "More poetry."

First, Mr. McCain and the New School's president, Bob Kerrey, were slapped around by a student speaker, Jean Sara Rohe, a 21-year-old from Nutley, N.J., who sang a lyric from a peace song and then abandoned her original remarks to talk about the "outrage" over Mr. McCain's speaking gig.

"The senator does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded," Ms. Rohe said, adding: "I am young, and although I don't profess to possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that preemptive war is dangerous and wrong."

She continued: "And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction."

The New School, of course, makes New York University seem like Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where Mr. McCain kowtowed last weekend to Jerry Falwell, the looney-toon he formerly deemed an agent of intolerance. (Just as Rudy buddy-buddied with Ralph Reed in Atlanta.)

The ultraliberal kids at the New School, the pacifist Greenwich Village university, think of themselves as free-thinking rabble-rousers in a world where many college kids, complacently cocooned under iPods, don't even like to debate, much less protest.

When a rigid-faced Mr. Kerrey chided the audience for being rude, a young woman yelled out, "You're a war criminal!" And a guy chimed in, "Yes, you are!"

It was a remarkable tableau to see the two iconoclastic vets, their bodies beneath the black gowns still bearing broken pieces from Vietnam, being pilloried by kids angry about another endless war, faceless enemy and feckless defense secretary.

Senator McCain came to Mr. Kerrey's defense in 2001. That's when graduate students called for the New School president to resign and for Congress to investigate him because a Times magazine piece had revealed that he had led a Seals unit that killed up to 20 unarmed civilians, most of them women and children.

(The Pentagon is now investigating a case in Haditha, Iraq, where marines are accused of killing 15 unarmed Iraqis from two families, including 7 women and 3 children.)

Yesterday, Mr. Kerrey returned the favor, admonishing the students that when they are "heckling from an audience ... no bravery is required."

The Arizona senator did not depart from his text and engage the students, as Bill Clinton might have done, with a passionate exegesis of his stance. And, still trying to show his temper is under control, he did not push back, as Rudy Giuliani might have.

He may have even found the screaming students useful, as a liberal hippie foil that will endear him to the evangelical base he's smooching up. Mr. McCain's adviser, John Weaver, talked dismissively of the West Village students, saying they should get out more and hear opposing viewpoints.

Mr. McCain's panderthon grew even more absurd this week. He let the Wyly brothers — the Texas businessmen who financed a $2.5 million ad campaign in 2000 trashing his environmental record, a move that enraged Mr. McCain and spurred him to call the Wylys W.'s "sleazy Texas buddies" — hold a fund-raiser for him in Dallas.

The senator may have wanted to give the same commencement speech at Liberty, the New School and Columbia as a way of showing those disillusioned by his snuggling with old enemies that he is still a straight-talker, willing to say the same thing to Southern conservatives and Northern liberals.

But Bob Kerrey better summed up the feeling of many of us about the New McCain in the new issue of Men's Vogue. He mocked the senator's coziness with W., telling Ned Martel: "He kissed him! McCain let Bush's lips touch him. Yuck!"

Photo credits: (1) (Librado Romero/The New York Times) 05/19/06 - New York, N.Y. - Senator John McCain delivers commencement speech during The New Schools ceremony at Madison Square Garden. Students holding leaflets and turning backs during McCain's address. (2) Maureen Dowd (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

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In Praise of Guy Goma

Why not give ordinary people their 15 minutes of punditry? John Tierney poses the question in today's rather refreshing NY Times op ed, where he adroitly satirizes the current "experts" who dominate CNN, MSNBC, et al.

And for those of you who have never seen Peter Sellers' superb performance as Chance Gardiner in "Being There" -- take this opportunity to rent of buy a copy. It's one of my all time favorites, and I'm betting it'll become one of yours.

The People's Pundit
By John Tierney
The New York Times
Let us now praise Guy Goma.

Goma had his 15 minutes of fame this week, mostly in the form of video replays of his terror-stricken face during a British news show. But there is so much more to learn from him.

Goma was at the BBC, waiting to be interviewed for a computer job, when a producer mistook him for another Guy and led him into a studio. Suddenly he was on live television being introduced as Guy Kewney, an expert brought in to comment on the verdict in the trademark dispute between Apple Computer and the Apple Corps record label.

It was that classic nightmare: finding yourself naked at a test you haven't studied for, with the extra twist of taking it in a foreign language. Goma, who had emigrated from the French-speaking Congo, started learning English only four years ago.

Hearing his introduction, Goma gaped at the host. His eyes widened, then flicked sideways, looking for help off-screen. But then he took a deep breath and faced the first question: "Were you surprised by this verdict today?"

"I am very surprised to see this verdict," he said truthfully, and proceeded to offer an unassailable explanation for his reaction: "because I was not expecting that."

"A big surprise," the host said.

"Exactly," Goma replied authoritatively.

Up until this point, you could argue that Goma was merely imitating that great pioneer of knowledge-free punditry, Chance, the illiterate gardener in "Being There." Chance (a k a Chauncey) perfected the echo technique. When a TV host said it was surprising that a man so unknown could be an adviser to the president, Chance sounded wise by simply observing: "Yes. That is surprising."

Chance also specialized in unassailable morsels of wisdom like, "Some trees lose their leaves before they grow new leaves," and, "There will be growth in the spring."

But while Chance stubbornly stuck to his gardening, Goma showed an admirable ability to improvise his way out of a discussion of trademark law. When asked whether the Apple verdict would allow more people to download music, he saw his opportunity and ran with it.

"Actually," he said, "you are going to see a lot of people downloading to the Internet and the Web site and everything they want." Smiling with assurance, he shifted to international affairs, explaining that the Internet would be "much better for development" because it was "faster."

The host admiringly agreed that the music industry did indeed seem to be evolving toward more downloading.

"Exactly," Goma said, and waxed on more confidently than ever, revealing that the Internet is "an easy way for everyone to get something."

"Thanks very much indeed," the host said enthusiastically.

His performance made it clear that television networks have been wasting money on professional commentators. Why not give everyone their 15 minutes of punditry? The only preparation the masses need is a video of Goma's debut (available on the BBC Web site).

It's a master class demonstrating the first principle of talking heads: Don't let the facts get in the way of an opinion. The less you know, the more forceful you can be. You're not distracted. You take in the big picture.

As Goma realized, no matter what business is being discussed, you can slither out of pesky questions by announcing that the industry has been transformed by the Internet. Or, if you prefer, you can pooh-pooh all the talk about the Internet revolution and say it's still the same old business of giving the customers a good product at a fair price. Either opinion is fine — you just have to pick one and stick with it.

If the topic is politics, you explain that a candidate risks alienating the base by courting moderates, or vice versa. You solemnly announce that what the voters are really looking for this year is leadership. If pressed on who's ahead in the race, you divulge that the only poll that counts is the one on Election Day.

Foreign policy can be tricky, but you can always rely on the gambit revealed a half-century ago by Stephen Potter, the author of "One-upmanship" and "Lifemanship." No matter what generalization a fellow talking head makes about any other country, you can dismiss it with a curt, "Yes, but not in the South."

If anyone asks for specifics, you go wide. You, like Guy Goma, deal not in trivia but in larger truths. The bottom line for you, when all is said and done at the end of the day, is that the future lies ahead.


Photo credit: John Tierney (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Make Every Home a Generator

Good things can happen when smart people put on their thinking caps in an effort to solve big problems. A case in point comes from Ron Dembo over at The Huffington Post.

Dembo's turn-the-energy-crisis-on-its-head approach is brilliant. Too bad we don't have a President with the same kind of pro-active, problem-solving abilities who could take this kind of thinking and turn it into reality. Oops. Forgot. They don't do 'reality' in Bush Land.

Must read: The Blog | Ron Dembo: Make Every Home a Generator | The Huffington Post

Ron Dembo: Bio:

Dr. Dembo is one of the world's leading authorities in risk management. He was the founder and former CEO and President of Algorithmics Incorporated, growing it from a startup to the largest enterprise risk management software company in the world, with offices in fifteen countries and over half of the world's top banks as clients. Prior to starting algorithmics, he led a distinguished academic career at yale university where he was cross appointed in Computer science and the Yale school of management. Dr. Dembo has published over sixty technical papers on finance and mathematical optimization and holds a number of patents in computational finance. As founder and CEO of, a new media not-for-profit working toward environmental sustainability, Dembo is applying his expertise in risk to design solutions to help solve the current environmental crisis we face. His most recent book, co-authored wth Daniel Stoffman, Upside Downside: simple rules of risk management for the smart investor was released in March 2006 by Random House.
Photo: Ron Dembo (

Where's the Bounce?

The Krug Man confirms my worst fears about our 'strong' (choke choke) economy: eventually, the administration's rubbery, optimistic, economic assertions had to lose their bounce.

Coming Down to Earth
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
Um, wasn't the stock market supposed to bounce back after Wednesday's big drop?

We shouldn't read too much into a couple of days' movements in stock prices. But it seems that investors are suddenly feeling uneasy about the state of the economy. They should be; the puzzle is why they haven't been uneasy all along.

The rise in stock prices that began last fall was essentially based on the belief that the U.S. economy can defy gravity — that both individuals and the nation as a whole can spend more than their income, not on a temporary basis, but more or less indefinitely.

To be fair, for a while the data seemed to confirm that belief. In 2005, the trade deficit passed $700 billion, yet the dollar actually rose against the euro and the yen. Housing prices soared, yet houses kept selling. The price of gasoline neared $3 a gallon, yet consumers kept buying both gas and other items, even though they had to borrow to keep spending (the personal savings rate went negative for the first time since the 1930's).

Over the last few weeks, however, gravity seems to have started reasserting itself.

The dollar began falling about a month ago. So far it's down less than 10 percent against the euro and the yen, but there's a definite sense that foreign governments, in particular, are becoming less willing to keep the dollar strong by buying lots of U.S. debt.

The housing market seems to be weakening rapidly. As late as last October, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo housing market index, a measure of builders' confidence, was still close to the high point it reached last summer. But on Monday the association announced that the index had fallen to its lowest level since 1995.

Finally, there are preliminary indications that consumers, hard-pressed by high gasoline prices, may be reaching their limit.

The National Retail Federation, reporting on a new survey, warns that "while consumers have seemed resilient in the face of higher energy costs, a tipping point may soon be in sight."

I can't resist pointing out that the Bush administration's response to the squeeze on working families has been, you guessed it, to accuse the news media of biased reporting.

On May 10 the White House issued a press release titled "Setting the Record Straight: The New York Times Continues to Ignore America's Economic Progress." The release attacked The Times for asserting that paychecks weren't keeping up with fixed costs like medical care and gasoline. The White House declared, "But average hourly earnings have risen 3.8 percent over the past 12 months, their largest increase in nearly five years."

On Wednesday John Snow repeated that boast before a House committee. However, Representative Barney Frank was ready. He asked whether the number was adjusted for inflation; after flailing about, Mr. Snow admitted, sheepishly, that it wasn't. In fact, nearly all of the wage increase was negated by higher prices.

Meanwhile, the return of economic gravity poses a definite threat to U.S. economic growth. After all, growth over the past three years was driven mainly by a housing boom and rapid growth in consumer spending. People were able to buy houses, even though housing prices rose much faster than incomes, because foreign purchases of U.S. debt kept interest rates low. People were able to keep spending, even though wages didn't keep up with inflation, because mortgage refinancing let them turn the rising value of their houses into ready cash.

As I summarized it awhile back, we became a nation in which people make a living by selling one another houses, and they pay for the houses with money borrowed from China.

Now that game seems to be coming to an end. We're going to have to find other ways to make a living — in particular, we're going to have to start selling goods and services, not just I.O.U.'s, to the rest of the world, and/or replace imports with domestic production. And adjusting to that new way of making a living will take time.

Will we have that time? Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, contends that what's happening in the housing market is "a very orderly and moderate kind of cooling." Maybe he's right. But if he isn't, the stock market drop of the last two days will be remembered as the start of a serious economic slowdown.

Photo credit: Paul Krugman. (The New York Times)

Outsourcing, Schmoutsourcing! Out Is Over

By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
I was on my way from downtown Budapest to the airport the other day when my driver, Jozsef Bako, mentioned that if I had any friends who were planning to come to Hungary, they should just contact him through his Web site: He explained that he could show people online all the different cars he has to offer and they could choose what they wanted.

"How much business do you get online?" I asked him. "About 20 to 25 percent," the Communist-era-engineer-turned-limo-proprietor said.

The former secretary of state James Baker III used to say that you know you're out of office "when your limousine is yellow and your driver speaks Farsi." I would say, "You know that the global economy is spinning off all kinds of new business models when your Hungarian driver has his own Web site in English, Magyar and German — with background music."

Jozsef's online Hungarian limo company is one of many new business models I've come across lately that are clearly expanding the global economy in ways that are not visible to the naked eye.

I was recently interviewing Ramalinga Raju, chairman of India's Satyam Computer Services. Satyam is one of India's top firms doing outsourced work from America, and Mr. Raju told me how Satyam had just started outsourcing some of its American work to Indian villages. The outsourcee has become the outsourcer.

Mr. Raju said: "We told ourselves: if business process outsourcing can be done from cities in India to support cities in the developed world, why can't it be done by villages in India to support cities in India. ... Things like processing employee records can be done from anywhere, so there is no reason it can't be done from a village." Satyam began with two villages a year ago and plans to scale up to 150.

There is enough bandwidth now, even reaching big Indian villages, to parcel out this work, and the villagers are very eager. "The attrition level is low, and the commitment levels high," Mr. Raju said. "It is a way of breathing economic life into villages." It gives educated villagers a chance to stay on the land, he said, and not have to migrate to the cities.

A short time later I was interviewing Katie Jacobs Stanton, a senior product manager at Google, and Krishna Bharat, founder of Google's India lab. They told me that Google had just launched Google Finance, but what was interesting was that Google Finance was entirely conceived by the Google team in India and then Google engineers from around the world fed into that team — rather than the project's being driven by Google headquarters in Silicon Valley.

It's called "around sourcing" instead of outsourcing, because there is no more "out" anymore. Out is over.

"We don't have the idea of two kinds of engineers — ones who think of things and others who implement them," Ms. Stanton said. "We just told the team in India to think big, and what they came back with was Google Finance." Mr. Bharat added: "We have entered the generation of the virtual office. Product development happens across the global campus now."

Last story. I'm in gray Newark speaking to local businessmen. I meet Andy Astor, chief executive of EnterpriseDB, which provides special features for the open-source database called PostgreSQL. His primary development team, he tells me, consists of 60 Pakistani engineers in Islamabad, who interact with the New Jersey headquarters via Internet-based videoconferencing.

"The New Jersey team — software architects, product managers and executives — comes to work a couple of hours early, while the Islamabad team comes in late, and we have at least five to six hours per day of overlap," Mr. Astor said. "We therefore have multiple face-to-face meetings every day, which makes a huge difference for communication quality. ... We treat videoconference meetings as if we were all in the same room."

What all these stories tell me is that we are seeing the emergence of collaborative business models that were simply unimaginable a decade ago. Today, there are so many more tools, so many more ideas, so many more people able to put these ideas and tools together to discover new things, and so much better communications to disseminate these new ideas across the globe.

If more countries can get just three basic things right — enough telecom and bandwidth so their people can get connected; steadily improving education and decent, corruption-free economic governance; and the rule of law — and we can find more sources of clean energy, there is every reason for optimism that we could see even faster global growth in this century, with many more people lifted out of poverty.

Photo credit: Thomas Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

The 9/11 Story That Got Away

Funny how 'MisInfo Miller' keeps popping up in the center of controversy...

AlterNet reports:
Now, in an exclusive interview, Miller reveals how the attack on the Cole spurred her reporting on Al Qaida and led her, in July 2001, to a still-anonymous top-level White House source, who shared top-secret NSA signals intelligence (SIGINT) concerning an even bigger impending Al Qaida attack, perhaps to be visited on the continental United States.

Ultimately, Miller never wrote that story either. But two months later -- on Sept. 11 -- Miller and her editor at the Times, Stephen Engelberg, both remembered and regretted the story they "didn't do."
Read more.

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The Cowering Dems

Looks like the Republican bully pulpit has once again intimidated the gutless Dems into all but abandoning any impending impeachment plans. Despite promises and hearings and reasons-beyond-reasons why GWB & Company should be brought up on impeachment charges--Jellyfish John Conyers has waffled:
"So, rather than seeking impeachment, I have chosen to propose comprehensive oversight of these alleged abuses. The oversight I have suggested would be performed by a select committee made up equally of Democrats and Republicans and chosen by the House speaker and the minority leader.

The committee's job would be to obtain answers -- finally. At the end of the process, if -- and only if -- the select committee, acting on a bipartisan basis, finds evidence of potentially impeachable offenses, it would forward that information to the Judiciary Committee. This threshold of bipartisanship is appropriate, I believe, when dealing with an issue of this magnitude."
Maybe I'm being too harsh. I hope we can chalk up Conyer's statement to political damage control. But I fear that, like the second phase of the 9/11 Commission Report, charged with looking into the administration's use or misuse of Iraq WMD intelligence, nothing will happen, no one will be held responsible, and our government will take yet another step away from its responsibility to the American people.

The American people want accountability from their government. It's time for the Democrats--who now lead on every measure in the polls--to step up to the plate and start swinging. It's time for the Republicans to realize that the only way to restore their own credibility is to do the same.

Democrats should make clear that their first priority, should they control the House, will be to address the people's most pressing problems: health care, energy, the environment, education, etc. But in addition to those priorities, they intend to restore the balance of power to our government by exercising their oversight responsibilities in a non-partisan manner.

Putting our troops in danger for spurious reasons is something that should enrage every, single American. Waging a possibly illegal War isn't a partisan issue. Government misleading its citizens isn't a partisan issue. It will take a strong leader to reunite this troubled and extremely divisive country around our shared values. It will take a wise leader to defuse the vindictive anger of Republicans and Democrats alike and focus that energy into a positive, pro-active governing body capable of working together for the good of all of the people.

It is time for Congress to put aside their party differences and conduct the kind of oversight we all deserve. We are one country that was once united in its outrage over 9/11. The only way to restore that unity is to restore open government and trust in our leadership. That means investigating any abuse of that trust--like now.

Read more.

Photo: John Conyers. (


Is Richard Armitage in Fitzgerald's Bull's-Eye?

According to Steve Clemons of "The Washington Note," former NSA chief Bobby Ray Inman believes that former Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage is in Fitzgerald's cross-hairs in the CIA leak investigation into the outing of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame. Clemons further believes that Armitage may have insider information. Read more here and here.

Photo credit: Richard Armitage. (Harvard University Gazette)

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