Stephen Pizzo

Israel Is Simply Wrong This Time

During my lifetime there have only really been two things that divided friends and family. The first was the Vietnam War. I was on the political left side of that one. My parents, and most of their generation, were on the political right side.

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The Rise of the Pro-Ignorance Right Wing Puts us All In Danger

As the old saying goes, "Every dog has his day." And so it has come to pass.

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The Biggest Threat Facing the Country Today Is Fast Creeping Ignorance

I am old enough to remember the days when what Americans were told to fear most was "Creeping Communism."

There were even hearings. There was a blacklist. There were arrests and even a couple of executions.

In the end all communism turned out to be creeping toward was its own extinction.

We may not be as lucky with the new creep we're facing today: Creeping Ignorance.

As a story from AlterNet put it, "3/4ths of Senate GOP Doesn't Believe in Science: The Tea Party and its allies had made it unacceptable to the GOP base to be anywhere except pandering to the anti-science crowd." (Full Story)

The Right, which hated and feared commies and their (largely imaginary) infiltration into government, not only don't seem to care about creeping ignorance in government, but have come to embrace this new breed of government infiltrators.

The explanation for this embrace is simple as the minds of the infiltrators: science, and for that matter any other factual analysis, tends to flatly contradict many of the Right's most cherished fictions, such as:

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What We Could Do with All That Money We Waste on War

Why do people gather themselves into communities, states, nations? Of course there are many reasons, but there are primary - one could say "primitive" motivators:

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How Is it that the Wall Street Journal Editors Have Absolutely No Memory of the Last 8 Years?

Here's a question to ponder this morning. It's one I've been pondering for some weeks now:

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The Inauguration Beer Goggles Are Coming Off and Our Ugly Economic Problems Are Still Here

Whoa! What a bash, huh? We liberal/progressives have been dry for so long that all that Obama bubbly went straight to our heads. By the time the oath of office was administered, I was already a blubbering goner.

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We Paid What for That Virtual Border Fence?

Well, they've done it again. They (those who govern us) have figured out how to design a mouse the size of an elephant. Here, read this first:

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The Scandal That Nearly Destroyed John McCain

Way back in 1988 my co-authors and I were putting the final touches to our book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans when someone slipped us a plain brown envelop. Inside was a transcript of a meeting between thrift regulators and five US senators who had interceded on behalf of Arizona S&L owner Charles Keating. At the time the regulators were warning that Keating's thrift, Lincoln Savings and Loan, was dangerously insolvent and that Keating and his cohorts -- including then junk bond king, Mike Milken, were robbing the federally-insured thrift blind -- or, more precisely, robbing the US taxpayers blind.

Keating had been generous in sharing his new-found wealth with the five senators, particularly his two Arizona senators, John McCain and Dennis DeConcini. They became known as "The Keating Five."

Alarmed by such high-powered political arm twisting, FHLBB attorney, William Black, decided to document the meeting. He claims to this day that he did not secretly record the five senators. But over the years I've read countless transcripts and I remain certain that the following is a transcription taken off an actual recording.

Of course, once authenticating the transcript we wasted no time including it in the appendix of our book. The disclosure of the meeting and verbatim remarks by each senator caused them no end of misery. One would have thought McCain especially had learned his lesson about messing with the work of federal regulators. And it appeared he had. But then comes the revelation that he once again chummed up to an industry group -- this time telecom -- and inserted himself into the regulatory process in ways that look distressingly similar to the Keating affair.

The Keating affair was about money and influence, not sex. This new revelation may or may not have sex in it -- but fankly, I couldn't care less. I don't lay awake at night worrying if my senator is getting laid by the wrong people, I worry if they are getting paid by the wrong people.

In the case of Charles Keating that money and influence, and the delays caused by political pimping by people like McCain, cost American small shareholders and taxpayers dearly:

Much has been made of the $2 billion that it will cost taxpayers to bail out Charles H. Keating Jr.'s Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. But for the people who were persuaded to invest their life savings in now-worthless securities, the cost is emotional as well as financial. (NYT - 1989)
Anyway, how often have you wished you could be a fly on the wall at one of these closed-door sit downs? Well, here's a rare glimpse at one, up close and personal.

* * *

"This meeting is very unusual ... to discuss a particular company."
-- Chairman, James Cirona, Federal Home Loan Bank, San Francisco, 1987


From: William Black, Esq.

To: Chairman, FHLBB, Edwin Gray

April 9, 1987

Meeting of FHLB-SF Personnel with:
Senators Cranston, DeConcini,

Glenn, McCain and Riegle

At your request I am providing you this memorandum, which reflects the substance of yesterday's meeting with Senators Cranston, DeConcini, Glenn, McCain and Riegle. The Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco (FHLB-SF) personnel who attended the meeting were James Cirona (President and Principal Supervisory Agent), Michael Patriarca (Director of Agency Functions), myself (general counsel) and Richard Sanchez (the Supervisory Agent for Lincoln Savings Assoc. of Irvine, Calif.).

The meeting commenced at 6:00 P.M. and ended at approximately 8:15 a.m., with two breaks of approximately 15 and 10 minutes during which time the Senators voted. Senator Cranston was present only very briefly, because of his responsibilities on the Senate floor. The other Senators were present for substantially the entire meeting.

This meeting was the product of an earlier meeting among yourself and Senators Cranston, DeConcini, Glenn and McCain. At that meeting, as related by you (and by these same Senators in yesterday's meeting) each of the Senators raised their concerns regarding the examination of Lincoln by the FHLB-SF and you noted your unfamiliarity with any specifics of the examination, your confidence in the FHLB-SF and your suggestion that the Senators hear from the FHLB-SF our supervisory concerns regarding Lincoln.

I was the only one at the April 9 meeting who took notes. While not verbatim, my notes are very extensive. At your request, I called you last night and read these notes to you. I have attached a copy of those notes to this memorandum. I have used these notes and my independent recall of the meeting to prepare this memorandum and provide the fullest possible record of the discussions at yesterday's meeting.

I have circulated this memorandum to Messrs. Cirona, Patriarca and Sanchez for their review to ensure the accuracy of this memorandum. I believe that his memorandum is an accurate and complete record of the substance of yesterday's meeting.

* * *

The Transcript

CIRONA: I am Jim Cirona. I am president of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. I have held that position for four years. I am here in my capacity as principal supervisory agent. We have jurisdiction over California, Arizona and Nevada savings and loans. Before becoming president I was in the industry for 20 years.


CIRONA: In New York.

DECONCINI: Did you know Bud Bavasi?

CIRONA: Yes. Bud is a good guy.

DECONCINI: Yes. He's great.

CIRONA: With me is Mike Patriarca, head of our agency function. Mike has joined us recently from the Comptroller of the Currency, where he was in charge of multi-national banks. Before that he was a lawyer for seven years.

McCAIN: We won't hold that against you.

CIRONA: You were a litigator.

PATRIARCA: No, I was in enforcement seven years.

CIRONA: Also with me is Bill Black, our general counsel. Bill was formerly director of litigation for the Bank Board for three years. Next to bill is Richard Sanchez. He's been with the San Francisco bank for years. Before that he was an auditor for a commercial bank and before that he was in school.

DECONCINI: Thank you for coming. We wanted to meet with you because we have determined that potential actions of yours could injure a constituent. This is a particular concern to us because Lincoln is willing to take substantial actions to deal with what we understand to be your concerns. Lincoln is prepared to go into a major home loan program - up to 55% of assets. We understand that that's what the Bank Board wants S&Ls to do. It's prepared to limit its high risk bond holdings and real estate investments. It's even willing to phase out of the insurance process if you wish. They need to deal with, one, the effect of your reg… Lincoln is a viable organization. It made $49 million last year, even more the year before. They fear falling below 3 percent (net worth) and becoming subject to your regulatory control of the operations of their association. They have two major disagreements with you. First, with regard to direct investments. Second, on your reappraisal. They're suing against your direct investment regulation. I can't make a judgment on the grandfathering issue. We suggest that the lawsuit be accelerated and that you grant them forbearance while the suit is pending. I know something about the appraisal values [Senator Glenn joins the meeting at this point] of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. They appear to be grossly unfair. I know the particular property here. My family is in real estate. Lincoln is prepared to reach a compromise value with you.

CRANSTON: [He arrives at this point] I'm sorry I can't join you but I have to be on the floor to deal with the bill. I just want to say that I share the concerns of the other Senators on this subject. [Cranston leaves.]

DECONCINI: I'm not on the Banking Committee and I'm not familiar with how all this works. I asked Don Riegle to explain to me how the Federal Home Loan system works because he's on Senate Banking. He explained it to me and that's why he's here.

McCAlN: Thank you for coming. One of our jobs as elected officials is to help constituents in a proper fashion. ACC is a big employer and important to the local economy. I wouldn't want any special favors for them. It's like the Apache helicopter program that Dennis and I are active on. The Army wants to cut back the program. Arizona contractors make major components of the Apache helicopter. We believe that the Apache is important to our national defense. That's why we met with General Dynamics and tried to keep the program alive.

I don't want any part of our conversation to be improper. We asked chairman Gray about that and he said it wasn't improper to discuss Lincoln. I'd like to mention the appraisal issue. It seems to me, from talking to many folks in Arizona, that there's a problem. Arizona is the second fastest growing state. Land values are skyrocketing. That has to be taken account of in appraisals.

(Sen. John Glenn joins the meeting late)

GLENN: I apologize for being late. Lincoln is an Ohio chartered corporation, and…

CIRONA: Excuse me. Lincoln is a California chartered S&L.

GLENN: Well, Lincoln is wholly owned by ACC. (Keating's American Continental Corp.)

DECONCINI: You said Lincoln was Ohio chartered. It's California.

GLENN: Well, in any event, ACC is an Ohio chartered corporation. I've known them for a long time but it wouldn't matter if I didn't. Ordinary exams take maybe up to 6 months. Even the accounting firm says you've taken an unusually adversary view toward Lincoln. To be blunt, you should charge them or get off their backs. If things are bad there, get to them. Their view is that they took a failing business and put it back on its feet. It's now viable and profitable. They took it off the endangered species list. Why has the exam dragged on and on? I asked Gray about his. Lincoln has been told numerous times that the exam is being directed to continue by Washington. Gray said this wasn't true.

RIEGLE: I wasn't present at the earlier meeting. There are things happening that may indicate a pattern that do raise questions [sic]. There is broad concern on the Banking Committee about the American Banker article on the FADA and FSLIC feud. Gray has great confidence in you as a team. He says you are some of the finest people in the system. The appearance from a distance is that this thing is out of control and has become a struggle between Keating and Gray, two people I gather who have never even met. The appearance is that it's a fight to a death. This discredits everyone if it becomes the perception. If there are fundamental problems at Lincoln, OK. I've had a lot of people come through the door feeling that they've been put through a meat grinder. I want professionalism, and your backgrounds attest to that professionalism. But I want not just professionalism, but fairness and the appearance of fairness. So I'm very glad to have this opportunity to hear your side of the story.

GLENN: I'm not trying to get anyone off. If there is wrongdoing I'm on your side. But I don't want any unfairness against a viable entity.

CIRONA : How long do we have to speak to you? A half-hour, an hour?

DECONCINI: As quickly as possible. We have a vote coming up soon.

CIRONA: First, if there's any fault to be had concerning the length of the examination, it's on my shoulders. We determine how examinations are conducted. Gray never gave me instructions on how to conduct this exam or any other exam. At this meeting you'll hear things that Gray doesn't know.

DECONCINI: Did Gray ever talk to you about the examination of Lincoln?

CIRONA: Gray talked to me when that article ran in the Washington Post. We received no instructions from Gray about the exam of Lincoln. We decide how to do the exam.

CIRONA: This meeting is very unusual… to discuss a particular company.

DECONCINI: It's very unusual for us to have a company that could be put out of business by its regulators. Richard, you're on; you have 10-12 minutes.

SANCHEZ: An appraisal is an important part of underwriting. It is very important. If you don't do it right you expose yourself to loss. Our 1984 exam showed significant appraisal deficiencies. Mr. Keating promised to correct the problem. Our 1986 exam showed that the problems had not been corrected - that there were huge appraisal problems. There was no meaningful underwriting on most loans. We have independent appraisals. Merrill Lynch appraised the Phoenician [Hotel]. It shows a significant loss. Other loans had similar losses.

DECONCINI: Why not get an independent appraisal?

SANCHEZ: We did.

DECONCINI: No, you hired them. Why not get a truly independent one or use arbitration - if you're trying to bend over backwards to be fair. There's no appeal from your reappraisal. Whatever it is you take it.

SANCHEZ: If it meets our appraisal standards.

CIRONA : The Phoenician reappraisal process is not complete. We have received Lincoln's rebuttal and forwarded it to our independent appraisers.

[At this point the senators left to vote. We resumed when Senators DeConcini and Riegle returned.]

SANCHEZ: Lincoln had underwriting problems with all of their investments, equity securities, debt securities, land loans and direct real estate investments. It had no loan underwriting policy manual in elect when we began our 1986 exam. When the examiners requested such a manual they were informed that it was being printed. The examiners looked at 32 real estate loans that Lincoln had made since the 1984 exam. There were no credit reports on the borrowers in all 52 of the loan Files.

DECONCINI: I have trouble with this discussion. Are you saying that their underwriting practices were illegal or just not the best practice?

CIRONA: These underwriting practices violate our regulatory guidelines.

BLACK: They are also an unsafe and unsound practice.

DECONCINI: Those are two very different things.

SANCHEZ: You need credit reports for proper underwriting.

[Senator Glenn returns at this point.]

RIEGLE: To recap what's been said for Senator Glenn: 52 of the 52 loans they looked at had no credit information. Do we have a history of loans to folks with inadequate credit?

SANCHEZ: $47 million in loans were classified. by examiners due to lack of adequate credit to assure repayment of the loans.

PATRIARCA: They're flying blind on all of their different loans and investments. That's what you do when you don't underwrite.

GLENN: How long had these loans been on the books?

SANCHEZ: A fairly long time.

GLENN: How many loans have gone belly-up?

SANCHEZ: We don't know at this point how many of the 52 have defaulted. These loans generally have interest reserves.

GLENN: Well, the interest reserves should run out on many of these.

CIRONA: These are longer term investments.

BLACK: I know that Lincoln has refinanced some of these loans.

GLENN: Some people don't do the kind of underwriting you want. Is their judgment good?

PATRIARCA: That approach might be okay if they were doing it with their own money. They aren't; they're using federally insured deposits.

RIEGLE: Where's the smoking gun? Where are the losses?

DECONCINI: What's wrong with this if they're willing to clean up their act?

CIRONA: This is a ticking time bomb.

SANCHEZ: I had another case which reported strong earnings in 198%. It was insolvent in 1985.

RIEGLE: These people saved a failing thrift. ACC is reputed to be highly competent.

BLACK: Lincoln was not a failing thrift when ACC acquired it. It met its net worth requirement. It had returned to profitability before it was acquired. It had one of the lowest rations of scheduled assets in the 11th District, the area under our jurisdiction. Its losses were caused by an interest spread problem from high interest rates. It, as with most other California thrifts, would have become profitable as interest rates fall.

DECONCINI: I don't know how you can't consider it a success story. It lost $24 million in 1982 and 1983. After it was acquired by ACC it made $49 million in one year.

McCAIN: I haven't gotten an answer to my question about why the exam took so long.

SANCHEZ: It was an extremely complex exam because of their various investments. The examiners were actually in the institution from March to October - 8 months. The asset classification procedure is very time consuming.

McCAIN: What's the longest exam you ever had before?

CIRONA: Some have technically never ended, where we had severe problems with a shop.

McCAIN: Why would Arthur Young say these things about the exam - that it was inordinately long and bordered on harassment?

GLENN: And Arthur Anderson said they withdrew as Lincoln's prior auditor because of your harassment.

RIEGLE: Have you seen the Arthur Young letter?


RIEGLE: I d like you to see the letter. It's been sent all over the Senate. [Hands Cirona the letter.]

PATRIARCA: I'm relatively new to the savings and loan industry but I've never seen any bank or S&L that's anything like this. This isn't even close. You can ask any banker and you know about these practices. They violate the law and regulations and common sense.

GLENN: What violates the law?

PATRIARCA: Their direct investments violate the regulation. Then there's the file stuffing. They took undated documents purporting to show under writing efforts and put them into the files sometimes more than a year after they made the investment.

GLENN: Have you done anything about these violations of law?

PATRIARCA: We're sending a criminal referral to the Department of Justice. Not maybe; we're sending one. This is an extraordinarily serious matter. It involves a whole range of imprudent actions. I can't tell you strongly enough how serious this is. This is not a profitable institution. Prior year adjustments will reduce that reported $49 million profit. They didn't earn $49 million. Let me give you one example. Lincoln sold a loan with recourse and booked a $12 million profit. The purchaser rescinded the sale, but Lincoln left the $12 million profit on its books. Now, I don't care how many accountants they get to say that's right. It's wrong. The only thing we have as regulators is our credibility. We have to preserve it.

DECONCINI: Why would Arthur Young say these things? They have to guard their credibility too. They put the firm's neck out with this letter.

PATRIARCA: They have a client. The $12 million in earnings was not unwound.

DECONCINI: You believe they'd prostitute themselves for a client?

PATRIARCA: Absolutely. It happens all the time.

[The senators left at this point for another vote.]
[We resumed when Senators DeConcini, McCain, and Riegle returned.]

CIRONA I also wanted to note that the Bank Board has had a lot of problems with Arthur Young, and is thinking of taking disciplinary action against it.

BLACK: Not for its actions here. Primarily because of its Texas office, which has never met a direct investment. They think everything is a loan. This has quite an effect on the income you can claim.

PATRIARCA: By regulation we have adopted a regulatory capital standard.

DECONCINI: And you'll take control of them if they fail your net worth standard - you'll take operational control of them.

CIRONA: That's speculative. We'd take steps to reduce their risk exposure.

RIEGLE: What would require them to sell?

CIRONA: We'd probably have them decrease their growth. Time and again we've found rapid growth associated with loss. Lincoln has grown rapidly.

BLACK: Are you sure you want to talk about this? We haven't made any recommendation to the Bank Board yet. The Bank Board decides what action to take. These are very confidential matters.

DECONCINI: No, then we don't want to go into it. We were just asking very hypothetically and that's how you [indicating Mr. Cirona] were responding.

CIRONA: That's right.

DECONCINI: Can we do something other than liquidate them?

CIRONA: I hesitate to tell an association what to do. We're not in control of Lincoln, and won't be. We want to work the problem out.

McCAIN: Have they tried to work it out?

CIRONA: We've met with them numerous times. I've never seen such cantankerous behavior. At one point they said our examiners couldn't get any association documents unless they made the request through Lincoln's New York litigation counsel.

RIEGLE: Well, that does disturb me - when you have to go through New York litigation counsel. What could they do? Is it too late?

CIRONA: It's never too late.

McCAIN: What's the best approach? Voluntary guidelines instead of a compulsory order?

DECONCINI: How long will it take you to finish the exam?

PATRIARCA: Ten days.

GLENN: Have they been told what you've told us?

PATRIARCA: We provided them with our views and gave them every opportunity to have us hear what they had to say. We gave them our classification of asset materials and went through them loan by loan. This is one of the reasons the exam has taken so long.

SANCHEZ: We gave them our classification materials on January . On March 9 we received 52 exhibits, amounting to a stack of paper this high [indicating approximately two feet of material] responding to that. We went through every page of that response.

PATRIARCA: We didn't use in-house appraisers. We sent the appraisals out to independent appraisers. We sent the reappraisals to Lincoln. We got rebuttals from Lincoln and sent them to the independent appraisers. I don't think there was any case that Lincoln agreed with the re-appraisal.

SANCHEZ: None where the reappraisal indicated insufficient collateral.

PATRIARCA: In every case, after reviewing the rebuttal, the independent ap-
praiser has stood by his conclusion.

DECONCINI: Of course. They had to.

PATRIARCA: No. The rebuttals claim specific problems with the independent appraisers' reappraisals: "You didn't consider this feature or you used the wrong rental rate or approach to value." The independent appraiser has come back to us and answered those specific claims by saying: "Yes, I did consider that, and here's why I used the right rate and approach."

DECONCINI: I'd question those reappraisals. If you want to bend over back-wards to be fair I'd arbitrate the differences. The criminality surprises me. We're not interested in discussing those issues. Our premise was that we had a viable institution concerned that it was being over-regulated.

GLENN: What can we say to Lincoln?

BLACK: Nothing with regard to the criminal referral. They haven't, and won't be told by us that we're making one.

GLENN: You haven't told them?

BLACK: No. Justice would skin us alive if we did. Those referrals are very confidential. We can't prosecute anyone ourselves. All we can do is refer it to Justice.

DECONCINI: They make their own decision whether to prosecute?

BLACK: Yes. I also want to mention that we are already investigating Arthur Anderson because of their role in the file stuffing. We don't know whether they knew the purpose for which they were preparing the materials. I don't want to get harassed… no, that's not the right word; I don't want to get criticized if we Find out that Arthur Anderson was involved criminally and we have to make a referral on them. We don't want them to claim retaliation. We're in a tough spot. With regard to what you can say to Lincoln, you might want to simply have them call us. If you really want to talk to them you can say that it will take us 7 to 10 days to Finish the exam.

RIEGLE: Is this institution so far gone that it can't be salvaged?

PATRIARCA: I don't know. They've got enough risky assets on their books that a little bad luck could nail them. You can't remove the risk of what they already have. You can reduce what new risks they would otherwise add on.

BLACK: They have huge holdings in Tucson and Phoenix. The. market there can't absorb them for many years. You said earlier that ACC was extremely good but ACC has gotten out of its former primary activity, homebuilding. I'm not saying they're bad businessmen but they had to get out of one homebuilding market after another. They had to get out of Colorado when they had bad models and soil problems. They also had to get out of their second leading activity, mortgage banking. They're now down to Arizona. That's not a bad market but no one knows how well it will do over the many years that it would take to absorb such huge holdings in Tucson and Phoenix.

DECONCINI: So you don't know what you'd do with the property even if you took them over?

BLACK: Bill Black doesn't. Bill Black is a lawyer. We hire experts to do this work. Our study of their Arizona holdings was done by top experts. Our study of below investment grade corporate debt securities - what folks usually call junk bonds, but I avoid it because I don't know where you stand on such bonds - was done by top outside experts. I see in this Arthur Young letter that they criticize us for having an accountant with "only" eight years of experience. Well, I think… I don't see how you can claim eight years as inexperienced. But we didn't simply rely on him. We had… wasn't it Kenneth…

SANCHEZ: Yes. Kenneth Laventhol.

BLACK: We had Kenneth Laventhol, outside accountants, work on this. These are also some of the reasons the exam took time.

PATRIARCA: I think my colleague Mr. Black put it right when he said that it's like these guys put it all on 16-black in roulette. Maybe, they'll win, but I can guarantee you that if an institution continues such behavior it will eventually go bankrupt.

RIEGLE: Well, I guess that's pretty definitive.

DECONCINI: I'm sorry, but I really do have to leave now.

[The meeting broke up at this point, approximately at 8:20 P.M.]

20 Annoying Things About 2007

Whew, has this been an annoying year, or what! I figure 2007 has been the most annoying year of my 62. I even did up a list of just the top 20 things I became sick and tired of during the past year.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1) I'm sick and tired of being bombarded by TV ads with American Indians telling me that their casinos are making life better for everyone, not just the ten members of their tribe. Have you ever been in one of those casinos? Just how are casinos making life better for the bus loads of gray-haired codgers who upload their meager Social Security checks into Chief Wampum's slots? And what about all those already over-extended, mortgage-poor, credit card maxed out working stiffs so desperate their last remaining hope to hit a progressive-slot jackpot? How is the spreading plague of Indian casinos helping those folks?

So knock it off with those phony feel-good ads and replace them with something that at least approximates the truth. Something like this would be more tolerable:

"We had a sweet thing going before Europeans showed up, uninvited, and mugged the living crap out of Indian tribes from coast to shinning coast. Well that hunk of Karma has come home to roost at our Indian Casinos where we are now happily, and profitably, doing the same thing to you. We even have a name for you ... The White Buffalo."

Now, that's at least true, and defensible. I can live with that. But even white-guilt has its limits and those spoken-with-forketh-tongue, Indian-casinos-are-good-for-us TV ads have pushed that limit well beyond the breaking point.

2) I'm sick and tired of all things bimbo. Paris, Britney, Lohan ... and all those like them. The only time such appaulingly stupid people should appear on my evening news is if they should stumble in front of the Presidential limo, get run over but survived and, once out of a coma, scribble out the solution to Einstein's unified field theory. Otherwise I never want to hear their names or see their vacant faces on the news again. They are nature's most useless and annoying creatures. CNN and MSNBC -- don't waste another electron reporting on these people because electrons have more important things to do -- and so do you.

3) I'm sick and tired of having to pretend that Christian fundamentalists are entirely sane when they announce with straight faces that the earth was created in six days, and is not billions of years old but actually just 6,000 years old. And that dinosaurs and humans coexisted because, "In fact, at Answers in Genesis, we call dinosaurs 'missionary lizards.' No sane literate person would -- could -- hold such utter nonsense to be true. Such pronouncements should be treated for what they are -- evidence of ignornace, mental illness or both.

Because they are provably false. They are NOT a equally valid scientific theory. They are the product of mass-hysterical-crazy thinking -- viral nonsense. People who believe such things, and try to get others to believe them, should be treated the exactly how we treat people who walk city streets shouting at things only they can see. And when one of these zombies shows up at a school board meeting demanding religious mythology be taught in science class, they should be politely asked to either shut up or leave. If they refuse then someone needs to call the cops to remove them to the nearest psychiatric facility and placed on a 36-hour hold. (Except in Texas, which we all know is a lost cause.)

4) I'm sick and tired of every politician running for election or re-election testifying that they, too, "believe." Believe what? Well, they keep that kinda of fuzzy. Politicians understand that, when you're seeking the votes of people who believe crazy things, you've gotta stay vague. That's because metaphysical-crazy comes in more flavors than Baskin-Robbins. No two crazies are the same, but they do all have one thing in common; they believe crazies of a different flavor are ... well, crazy. Which is why politicians play their "crazy belief cards" close to the vest. Instead of risking losing crazy votes by getting specific about precisely what kind of metaphysical things they may or may not believe in, they vaguely reasure them with a wink, wink, nudge, nudge -- "Just trust me folks. I'm at least as crazy as you."

5) I'm sick and tired of my country listing among our "friends and allies" creepy, unsavory, smarmy, self-indulgent, utterly despicable regimes -- to wit -- Saudi Arabia and the Saudi "royal" family. John Gotti's family had more royal blood in it than the 7000-odd dictatorial, misogynistic sheiks that run Saudi Arabia. If they weren't squatting atop lakes of oil the only kingdom they'd be lording over would have horns and require milking twice a day. If there's a more despicable bunch of mobsters masquerading as leaders today, I can't think of it. And I'm sick of seeing our moron of a President walking hand in hand with these cross-dressing, lying, cheating, terrorist-financing, rape-victim-lashing Arab home-boys, at the same time we continue embargoing Cuba and shaking a threatening fist at Iran.

6) I'm sick and tired of hearing about how Pakistan is a "valuable ally in the war on terror." No they're not. Hell, they're not even a real democracy anymore. Also everyone knows that the Pakistan army and intelligence services are lousy with al Qaida and Taliban sympathizers. Calling Pakistan an ally is like declaring George W. Bush one of America's most accomplished Presidents. The day Pervez Musharraf fired the whole Supreme Court and replaced them with handpicked Clarence Thomas' and Anthony Scalia's, we should have given NATO troops in Afghanistan the green light go into Pakistan's tribal regions and do whatever needed doing there. The other thing we should have done a long time ago is to dispatch a team of Navy Seals to snatch A.Q. Khan -- the guy who spread nuclear bomb technology from North Korea, to Lybia and Iran. Khan is currently under "house arrest" in Pakistan. Snatching him and bringing him to justice would send a message to anyone thinking of peddling nukes that they'll never live to spend the money.

7) I'm sick and tired of "Billery." Bill and Hillary Clinton have worn out their welcome in my head. I appreciate Bill's accomplishments as President. But fine, can we move on now? I didn't appreciate the Bill and Hillary soap operas the first time around. But now the nation and world are too much in crisis to restart that kind of unhelpful diversions. Hillary is a smart and viciously accomplished pol. But rather than president, her skills could be put to better use as Senate Majority Leader. Ditch the nearly comatose Harry Reid and put Hillary in that important post. Because, unlike Reid, Hillary knows how to jerk leashes -- and actually likes it.

8) I'm sick and tired of the global warming deniers. They should be treated with the same sense of anger and disgust as Holocaust deniers... just more so. Denying the Holocaust only denies the murder of six million humans. Denying global warming and it's causes threatens to sentence hundreds of millions, maybe billions, of humans to slow, painful untimely deaths. I can't punch global warming deniers, though I'd like to. But if they persist they and their families should all be required to relocate to the lowest laying atoll in the Pacific.

9) I'm sick and tired of Wall Street and government "economists" blowing smoke up my ass about the state of the economy. I cut my journalistic teeth on financial crisis, so I know one when I see one coming. And one is coming. In fact, it's just now arriving. Don't tell me the "underlying strength of the US economy is strong." Bullshit. Consumer spending accounts for 70% of the US economy, and those consumers are tapped out. They can't even mug another dime of equity out of their now over encumbered homes. Even those usurious credit card companies won't lend them anymore until they pay off their overdue balances. Hello.....

The truth is we are heading into the worst case of stagflation in a quarter century. So, economists, spare me the happy talk. That crap might buy you some time by creating sucker rallies on Wall Street, but you are about to run out of suckers. Do you have a plan for that? If so, that's what what I want to hear from you ... and quickly please.

10) I'm sick and tired of defense contractors, like Lockheed, running TV ads trying to convince me that everything they do is "for our troops in harms way." Gag me with a rocket launcher! Everything defense contractors do is in pursuit of billions of defense tax dollars. That's why they do it --- the only reason they do it. They never seem to mention in their ads that every year... without exception...every year, they are each one caught red handed lying, cheating and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars more. And that, even when caught, not one of them has spent a day in the slammer for it. So, shut up with the "we do it all for our troops," crap, will ya? It makes me wanna reach through the TV and Blackwater your asses.

11) I'm sick and tired of teachers absolving themselves of any responsibility for the dismal state of American education. When I sat on a school board I suggested we grant teachers even more in pay raises than they were requesting. I only had one condition; that we be allowed to bypass teacher union roadblocks when we wanted to reward exceptional teachers and could promptly fire the well known loser teachers on our staff. Their response -- "No way Jose." You would have thought I'd asked them to undress or something. No personal accountability for teachers, not even if we paid them for it. If private industry had those kind of rules America would look like Somalia today -- which is why our education system nearly does.

12) I'm sick and tired of hearing that the US has "the best health care in the world." First of all my wife is a health care professional, which means I hear the real scoop every day she returns from work. Tales that curl the blood. We don't have the best health care in the world, we just have the most expensive health care in the world. It's a system run by a bunch of blood sucking private insurance companies that cherry pick the actuarial pool. They insure only those unlikely to need medical care, and reject anyone who just might. Those they refuse to insure eventually end up getting medical care on the public nickel. Wouldn't you love a business deal like that, one where you get to shove your risks off on the government allowing you to pocket all that low/no risk gravy? I sure would. I'm sick of it... pun intended.

13) I'm sick of paying a higher percentage of my adjusted gross income than Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. The Bush tax cuts have been a bonanza for the already super rich, and a big lump of coal for everyone else. For our national infrastructure the Bush tax cuts were a "who needs public infrastructure anyway!" The truth is that the rich got rich largely thanks to Americas generous, reliable and efficient taxpayer funded infrastructure -- roads, bridges, airports, ports and such. Therefore they should pay taxes that adequately reflect and reimburse the nation for that. At the end of the day, every road is a toll road, and the rich are nolonger paying their fair share of tolls.

14) On the same subject, I'm also sick and tired of hearing Republicans spout the nonsense that if you cut a rich person or corporation's taxes they will use that extra money to "create jobs for working Americans." No they won't. And no, they haven't.

What they have done with their Bush's tax cut bonanza is sock it away in tax-protected family trusts and then lobby Congress to eliminate the estate tax so their heirs can keep every dime of it. If any of that extra money does end up getting invested in a job-creating enterprise you can bet your low-wage bippy those jobs end up in China or someplace like China. So, spare the "trickle down" crapola fellas.

15) I'm sick and tired of spending $60 billion a year on intelligence services that aren't.

16) I'm sick and tired of Neo-con, lap-dog Republicans who have defended and aided administration officials who openly champion views of governance so un-American they border on neo-fascism.

17) I'm sick and tired of conniving, weaselly, cowardly Democrats who could have obstructed our nations slide toward totalitarianism -- but didn't -- and still haven't.

18) I'm sick and tired of hearing American auto makers whine about how they can't possibly meet higher fuel economy standards while the Japanese clean up doing just that. The last time this happened, back in the 1970s, the Japanese whipped Detroit's sorry ass by making higher mileage small cars while Detroit keep spitting out 8-cylinder behemoths. Then Uncle Sam ended up having to bail out Chrysler and put import quotas on Japanese cars so we didn't have to bailout the out GM and Ford as well. The Big Three dinosaurs are at it again, addicted to selling Hummers and gas-guzzling SUVs and fighting every effort to get them to switch to higher millage and alternative fuel vehicles. Maybe if we hadn't bailed them out of their last self-inflicted wounds they'd have come out with a Prisus before the Japanese this time. If GM had an ounce of sense it would change it's name from General Motors to Green Machines and get with the frigging program. I'm sick and tired of rewarding and enabling such stubborn, corporate stupidity and public and social malfeasance.

19) I'm sick and tired of soap-opera news stories that have runs longer than most Broadway plays. The next time some guy's wife goes missing, and authorities suspect he killed her and dumped her body someplace, don't tell me about -- at least until they solve the crime and actually know what happened. Even then such stories are for local news, so why are they on the national news in the first place? I'm sick and tired of these long, drawn out tales of dysfunctional relationships turned deadly. Nothing about these tales matters to anyone except the poor people directly involved, their families and immediate neighbors. There's absolutely no national news value to running these stories night after night, except a sick "entertainment" value. So, unless these sad cases are being caused by some communicable virus that's spreading at an alarming rate and heading my way, I don't want to hear about them -- it's not "news I need" -- or even want.

20) I'm sick and tired of these new "Christians are being persecuted" TV ads. You know, the ones where some Chinese kid narrates how she was forced to walk barefoot through the snow to a detention center because she wrote stuff about Jesus ... blah, blah, blah. The truth is the overly religious thrive on claims of persecution, real or Madison Avenue-imagined. Nothing stirs up the religiously enthralled like a ripping, tear-jerking tale of persecution. More importantly, nothing opens up the wallets of the herd faster either. One might suggest to them that maybe if fundamentalist Christians tried to be a little less "up everyone's nose," every time we turn around these days they might face less persecution. That assumes, of course, they really are being "persecuted" every time they make the claim -- which I doubt. Often what they view as persecution is simple, non-violent, rhetorical push-back from those of us who've heard quite enough about their supernatural pretend friend(s) of choice. They consider such push back "persecution." We call it self-defense.

Vulnerable Helicopters Should Accelerate Iraq Exit

I'm one of those odd people who believes that sometimes that deja vu feeling is real -- that we really have "been here, done this," before. Well I got that deja vu feeling this morning when I read this:

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Incoming Missiles? Duck and Cover

I am not reassured.

First they said it was six.

No, cancel that, it was just three.

Hold it. The first report was correct, it was six.

Nix that. It was five.

OK, this time we've got it -- it was six after all.

Now it's seven.

The Russians and South Koreans say there were 10.

That was the -- dare I call it the Chinese fire drill -- that unfolded at the White House on the day North Korea shot a baker's half-dozen missiles in our general direction. Foxy Tony Snow really earned his money that day, running back and forth between the White House press room and the White House situation room, changing the number of missiles up, down, up, down and back up again all morning.

Hours after North Korea pushed the launch buttons, our U.S. commander in chief still had only the foggiest idea of what had been heading our way. Were they the big Taepodong Two intercontinental missles? Or were they shorter range Scuds? Or both? Or a combination of all the above? The Bush administration clearly did not know and didn't know for an unsettling amount of time.

Had this been the real thing, Hawaii might have been missing an island on Wednesday morning.

Of course the Pentagon was quick to reassure folks that they were ready, willing and able to shoot down an incoming Korean missile had it appeared to be heading our way. Which is, of course, utter nonsense -- and a barefaced lie.

The U.S. Missile Defense System (aka "Star Wars") has been controversial since Ronald Reagan dreamed it up nearly a quarter century ago. I have neither the desire nor energy to re-argue the case(s) for and against such a system. But, in light of this week's happenings, I am forced to wonder, what have they done with my $500 billion spent on it so far?

By this time, and with all that money, our commander in chief, whose command is required before interceptor missiles can be launched, still had less information during this crisis than CNN. Worse yet, CNN had better information.

So, 20 years and $500 billion later, here's what we have: If someone launches a missile attack with our address on it, we still cannot tell exactly how many missiles are heading our way or what kind of missiles they might be. All we know is something wicked our way comes -- maybe.

If you are inclined to find comfort in the Pentagon's post-launch chest thumping, you haven't been paying attention. Yes, it's true that President Bush has ordered a limited deployment of the first missile interceptors, based in California and Alaska. But be clear, those two Star Wars bases are to U.S. missile defense what the Potemkin Village is to North Korea. All show, no go.

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Sixteen Bold Moves We Can Use

If you are like me, you just get weary listening to the weaselly crap both Republicans and Democrats peddle daily to us in the hopes that something they say will "resonate" with one demographic or another.

I was listening to Hillary Clinton's tortured logic earlier this week as she tried to explain to Democrat activists that she was against what Bush is doing in Iraq, but is also against setting a date for withdrawal. But what's she "for?" Hell if I know -- or, at this point, even care any longer.

So I was moping around this morning, feeling lower than the axles of a tricked-out low-rider, when it occurred to me that I am probably not alone... not by long shot. What I want more than anything else these days is for someone -- I don't even care which party they are in -- just someone, to take genuine bold action.

Bold. Not parsed to the Nth degree. Not Bermuda-triangulated to cognitive oblivion. But bold. The kind of stuff that makes you shoot coffee through your nose when you read it in your morning paper.

So I cooked up a wish list of bold positions that I want to see in my paper in the coming weeks and months. I don't care what order they arrive. I'll take any one of the following announcements on any day.

Health Care: Acknowledging that only a single-payer health insurance system can be both profitable and cover everyone, Congress passes America's first national universal health insurance system. The new entity would be a public/private partnership run by the private sector but regulated and underwritten by government, much the same way Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae serve the residential marketplace as GSEs -- "Government Sponsored Entities." (Minus, of course, the fat-cat abuse recently discovered at those two GSEs.)

Illegal Immigration: Forget the fence. Congress increases funding and staffing for a national network of workplace immigration auditors. Businesses are provided online tools to verify citizenship, much like the national database that gun shops are now required to use before selling someone a firearm. Businesses with more than 100 employees will have their employment records audited without notice at least once a year. Penalties for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants will be enforced, and violators listed publicly on the Web.

National Energy Policy: Congress funds "Manhattan Project II" - a  10-year crash program to replace oil and coal with renewable, sustainable, non-polluting energy sources. The Manhattan II Project would be funded by a 50-cent tax on all gas and oil products, except for those used for home heating.

Campaign Reform: Since the Supreme Court has ruled that money, in politics, is equal to free speech, Congress passes a constitutional amendment requiring that all national campaigns for House, Senate and Presidential be funded solely from a special, federal campaign fund. The money in this fund would come from a small surtax on all individuals, businesses and corporations, and the money distributed in equal amounts to any candidate that gathers at least 10 percent of the primary votes.  
Lobbying Reform: Congress passes a total prohibition on all forms of lobbyist-provided gratuities, including trips on private planes at below-market ticket prices. Any "fact-finding" trips sponsored by interest groups must first be approved by the House and Senate ethics committees, and listed on a public website at least 30 days before departure to allow for public comment and/or protest.

Open Government: Congress passes an open government law modeled after California's Brown Act, requiring that all the public's business be conducted in public, excluding only matters involving personnel, national security and Supreme Court deliberations. (Under such a law, Cheney's energy task force meetings would have been illegal.)

Budgeting: Congress passes a balanced budget amendment requiring that the nation's annual budgets be in balance, except in time of congressionally approved war or formally declared national emergency.

Taxes: Congress repeals the Bush tax cuts for the top one percent of earners, and shifts those savings to individuals earning under $30,000 a year (or couples earning under $60,000.) For wage earners, these tax savings would be reflected as a cut in their payroll tax.

A Livable Wage: Congress mandates an increase in the minimum wage to $10 an hour -- and (this time) indexes the minimum wage to inflation so it will never again fall behind.

National Security: Congress formally adopts my "Don't Do That" national defense strategy.

Iraq: Congress ties further funding for the war in Iraq to a blueprint that requires  the president to begin to disentangle the US from its presence in that country. The plan  begins with a six-month deadline to move all US troops to Iraq's borders to provide border security, air and logistical support for the emerging Iraqi security force. Six months later, US troops must begin an orderly withdrawal from Iraq with all troops out of that country by the end of 2007.

General Motors: The company announces that the "GM" brand will no longer stand for General Motors, but for "Green Machines."  In the 2008 model year, GM will begin a company-wide transition away from the internal combustion engine. Until better technologies are mature, GM will begin by producing only hybrid non-commercial vehicles. Ultimately the company's announced goal is to,  within a decade, be the first auto company to offer a full fleet of fuel-cell/electric-powered vehicles.

Iran: Congress announces it will refuse to support any Iraq-style preemptive military action on Iran and instead sends the White House a copy of the "Don't Do That" strategy.

Venezuela: Butt out.

Cuba: Butt in -- but in a nice way for a change. Lift the travel ban and embargo.

Gitmo: Close it. Transfer the prisoners to a maximum security prison in the US and begin a 90-day review of each case, after which each prisoner must be either formally charged, provided a lawyer and tried, or released immediately and returned to their home country. Those that can make a case that they would be harmed if forced to return to their home countries could apply for temporary residence in the US and would have their petitions heard within 60 days of release.

As I said above, any one of those things would be a rare shaft of sunlight into what has become a very gloomy and dispiriting picture of America's leadership. If all of those bold moves came to pass, it really would finally be "morning in America."

Politicians misread Americans. We are not only ready for bold ideas, but starved for them. We don't lack bold ideas, what we lack are bold leaders. Which is why none of the above will come to pass, and why it is likely to instead remain 'mourning in America," at least for the foreseeable future.

Congress Snivels While Bush Breaks Laws

Am I missing something? I mean, I wasn't exactly an A student in civics class, but I do clearly recall that the way the U.S. Constitution was written -- and remains unamended -- is that Congress passes bills and the president either signs them into law or vetoes them. If he signs a bill, it becomes a law that the executive branch is then constitutionally required to enforce.

Am I wrong about that? Did I miss the passage of a constitutional amendment that changed the balance of power established by our founders?

If not, then the president of the United States has broken the law, not just once, but hundreds of times.

That's how many times this guy has signed bills into law and then, after the camera left, signed a separate document he calls "a signing statement," that, in effect, says, "Just kidding. Here's which parts of that bill I just signed that I will enforce, and which parts I won't enforce."

Phillip Cooper is a leading expert on signing statements; in fact he wrote the book on the subject: By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action. Two years ago Cooper wrote that George W. Bush had issued 23 signing statements in 2001; 34 in 2002, raising 168 constitutional objections; 27 statements in 2003, raising 142 constitutional challenges; and 23 statements in 2004, raising 175 constitutional criticisms. In total, during his first term Bush raised a remarkable 505 constitutional challenges to various provisions of legislation that became law.

That number has now passed 750.

The White House claims all this is constitutionally kosher. But how can it be? Would someone explain to me how these noxious signing statements are any different from the line-item veto, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional? If you read one of Bush's signing statements they read very much like a line-item veto -- "Yes to this part of the bill, no to this part," etc. Sure looks like a duck to me.

For those of you unfamiliar with a Bush signing statement, here's a sample. Bush signed this little gem right after signing the USA Patriot Act "Improvement and Reauthorization Act," earlier this year. The president hailed that bill in a presigning statement for the cameras. What he didn't mention was the little piece of paper under the bill that he would sign after everyone left the room. Here it is:

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The Clownification of America

"We've turned into this nation of overfed clowns, riding around in clown cars, eating clown food, watching clown shows. We've become a nation of cringing, craven fuckups." --James Howard Kunstler, author of "The Long Emergency"

When I saw this Kunstler quote a couple of weeks ago, I thought it a bit harsh. Then I picked up my morning paper -- and, all at once, I got it.

There, in 120-point bold headline type, above the fold, the lead story of the day, was the "news" that: In less than 24 hours, singer Taylor Hicks would battle singer Katharine McPhee for the title of American Idol!

Clowns. We have indeed become a nation of frivolous, self-indulgent, overweight, undereducated, unserious, clowns. When an event of such monumental unimportance wins precious front-page status, what other conclusion can be reached?

Art has stopped imitating life and simply become a substitute for it. I flashed back to the 1967 cult TV series "The Prisoner," starring Patrick McGoohan -- a British spy kidnapped and imprisoned on an island with an Orwellian-like society. Each morning radios, newspapers and speakers announced it was "another wonderful day on the island." Every day was another wonderful day. There never was a bad day -- never mind that everyone on the island was a prisoner.

And so it has come to pass on our island, where the papers, radios and televisions no longer differentiate between news and entertainment. Where "American Idol" finals get page 1 treatment and genocide in Darfur is pushed deep inside the paper in the shadow of a 1/2-page Best Buy ad trumpeting a sale on iPod accessories.

Oh, lighten up Pizzo! People need entertainment as much as they need to know about all the bad news out there.

Yeah, fine. But let's keep the entertainment news in the entertainment section of the paper where it belongs. Can we do that? Oh, and keep the sports news on the sports page as well. The only time I want to see the name "Barry Bonds," in the news section of the paper is if major league baseball ever kicks his cheating ass out of the game. Or if he robs a bank. Or if George Bush appoints Barry head of the FDA. Otherwise, keep him and all other baseball-relating "news" where it belongs … in the sports section.

And, unless the losing singer on "American Idol" pulls a gun and opens fire after hearing the verdict, everything else about that show belongs in the entertainment section and NOT on my front page. The same rules apply to everyone and anyone whose only claim to fame is that they sing, dance, submerge themselves in a Plexiglas globe, eat the most hot dogs in the shortest time or own a cute dog that fetches beer on command.

None of that is news. Not one word, factoid or photo-op of it is news.

It's not as if there was not real news the day "American Idol" found its way onto my front page. During that same news cycle almost anything that happened in Iraq was more important, as were the doings that day on Capitol Hill, at the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department or in Iran. On the day my paper put "American Idol" above the fold on the front page, the editors could have thrown a dart at that list of the above newsmakers and found a story more worthy of the front page.

Who wins or loses on "American Idol" may send a few thousand teenage girls squealing off in tears, but that's about the extent of the damage. On the other hand, we live in extraordinarily dangerous times. A convergence of economic, geopolitical and environmental challenges confront the human race … any one of which could tomorrow trigger a series of events that would turn all our lives inside out.

So, news editors everywhere, let's get back to treating the front page as the sacred trust it is -- the place reserved for the most important news we need to know that day in order to exercise our responsibilities as citizens and members of the human race.

The mainstream media has become complicit in the "clownification" of the American public. As more and more newspapers and broadcast entities are gobbled up by a handful of giant media conglomerates, the news business has become a circulation/ratings game. News people now cover entertainers as though they are newsmakers. And, as if that's not bad enough, news people themselves now become entertainers -- appearing on Larry King Live and then interviewing one another. Newsmen become showmen -- the news biz, show biz.

Media companies feel they have to lure us in by blending news and entertainment into a single tasty, calorie-filled but nutrition-free product. Once hell-raisers, they are becomng clownmakers.

Aren't you embarrassed? Well damn it, you oughta be.

One Final GOP Rip-Off Before November

Remember the rampant looting that followed the fall of Saddam? You may have thought that was a pretty brazen display of thievery.

Forget about it. Those Iraqis were pikers compared to the Republican-engineered looting about to begin right here at home. Context being everything, let me set the stage.

The GOP can read the polls. They know the jig is up. Americans are onto them, and we fully intend to throw them out of power beginning with this November's midterm elections.

Which is why the rush is on to top off their booty accounts and those of their well-heeled friends. It's every man, woman and contractor for him or herself now -- and never mind appearances. Just start stuffing the cash into old duffel bags until they're dragged, kicking and screaming, away from the till.

Which brings me to the measure passed by the Republican Senate this week. When you're looking for loose cash these days, where better to look than Iraq and Afghanistan? And this week they went straight for it. The Senate was considering a supplemental bill to fund reconstruction in the countries we deconstructed during Bush's first term in office. The sum the White House requested: a lip-smacking $109 billion.

You might remember that soon after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, Halliburton and other administration-connected contractors were caught stealing hundreds of millions. ("Stealing": such an ugly word. They prefer "billing disputes" and "cost overruns.")

The flap over those early capers resulted in the appointment of Stuart Bowen as special inspector for Iraq reconstruction. Bowen was given a $24 million annual budget and a staff of 55 junkyard dog auditors.

Apparently, the White House failed to conduct its usual background checks of Mr. Bowen. Because, if they had, he would have never been hired. Unlike the standard issue administration yes-men, Bowen turned out to be the real deal. He and his small auditors thought they were actually supposed to catch cheats. And, sure enough, they began catching contractors forcing them to put the cookies back in the jar.

Which explains this week's White House hat trick. The administration had GOP senators on the appropriation committee to make a tiny change in wording to the new $109 billion authorization. It was a tiny change and, I am sure, they hoped it would go unnoticed.

Under prior authorizations, Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction funds were described as "relief and reconstruction" funds. Under the measure passed by the Senate this week, the newly authorized funds would fall under the description "foreign operation" funds.

Here's the rub: Under law, relief and reconstruction funds must be audited by Stuart Bowen's bean counters. But Bowen has no authority over appropriations designated as foreign operations funds. Those funds are audited by the State Department inspector general.

Now, remember … Bowen's annual budget is $24 million, and he has 55 seasoned auditors. (Auditors who have gotten to know the perps and their tricks very, very well.)

The State Department inspector general has a budget more like the Mayberry Police Department: $1.3 million and just 4 auditors.

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Investigate Big Dick

If the US Senate really wants to earn our respect, I have a suggestion for them: Hold bipartisan hearings into Dick Cheney's 2001 Energy Task Force.

If not now, when?

Low-wage working Americans can't afford to drive to their jobs? Already some folks have been forced to pawn personal items just to fill their tank for another week. How bad does it have to get before you guys up there start asking the questions you should have asked years ago -- and this time, demanding real answers.

So, Bill Frist, Harry Reid, pull together a bipartisan panel made up of your toughest, most skeptical prosecutional-minded members, hire a couple of junkyard dog lawyers to act as GOP and Dem counsels, and let the long overdue hearings begin.

Subpoena everyone who had anything to do with those meetings, including secretaries who transcribed the original minutes. Oh, and when you call oil industry execs back, put them under oath this time. Because they lied last time when they said they had no idea...

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Fall of the Ring Bearers

Rep. Jim Wright
12th Congressional District, Texas: 1955-1989
Rep. Dan Rostenkowski
8th Congressional District, Illinois: 1959-1995
Rep. Newt Gingrich
6th Congressional District, Georgia: 1995-1999.
Rep. Tom DeLay
22nd Congressional District, Texas: 1984-2006
I've watched them rise to power, and I've watched them fall. It's a pattern now so familiar that even during the darkest days of the last decade, I never doubted that Tom DeLay, too, would eventually self-destruct just like the political supernovas that went before him.

During the years I spent interviewing politicians, I left every single one of those interviews pondering a single question: Why on earth would any normal person lust for such an office? The answer to that question also explains why things are such a mess all the time. Herein lays the fatal flaw in modern democracy -- as a rule, "normal" people don't run for public office. Normal people understand the corrosive nature of achieving public figuredom. Normal people understand the dangers of flying close to the klieg lights of fame.

It's so dangerous because it plays on the most superficial of human emotions. First comes fame and public adulation. Then the unquestioning allegiance of sycophantic hangers-on. Finally there's "specialness" … you are treated differently than everyone else. Better. Much better.

At first, it's exhilarating. Then it's intoxicating. At first you appreciate it. Later you come to expect it. Because you are no longer like everyone else. You are special. Soon, the need to retain this special status dictates what you say, what you do, even what you claim to believe. (After all, if you were special, would you voluntarily go back to being ordinary?)

There's a term in Washington that such folks aspire to: player. If a political colleague tells you, "You're a player," that's high praise in D.C. I remember when I first heard that term. It was after a book I co-authored on the S&L scandal came out in 1989, and everyone on the Hill was reportedly reading it. A D.C. political consultant told me I was a player. It means you have pull. It means you can shape and influence events, make things happen.

But players in national politics come in various sizes. There are small players -- mostly first-term members of Congress. There are major players -- people like Ted Kennedy and Speaker Dennis Hastert -- who have been around a while and have accumulated chits. Then there are megaplayers. These folks have figured out how to accumulate so much power that they scare the hell out of everyone else. They are to politics what mob bosses are to organized crime. They can make or they can break. Small players quake in their presence. Major players are jealous of megaplayers and plot and scowl at them -- but only behind their backs.

Tom DeLay was a megaplayer. Before DeLay, Democrats Dan Rostenkowski and Jim Wright and Republican Newt Gingrich were megaplayers. Each of them choked upon the ring of power. Each of them slipped it on for what they believed to be all the right reasons. None of them could take it off once they felt the rush. And it destroyed them. I can always tell when a megaplayer has been corrupted by his power. They develop a relaxed swagger and a permanent, condescending smirk.

When I see that smirk, I recall Euripides' warning: "Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first deprives of their senses." Madness, in national politics, manifests itself as abuse of power, arrogance, a sense of entitlement, contempt for the rule of law and corruption.

So, Tom DeLay is history. But even as I type these words, I can hear in my mind the rumble of feet as GOP Big Players frantically search for DeLay's dropped ring -- lusting after the very power that has corrupted and destroyed most of its most recent bearers.

Donald Rumsfeld Is Mad As a Hatter

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is mad. No, I mean seriously ill. Mentally ill. Demonstrably so.

I can't say whether or not he was mad from the start, but I can tell you with some degree of certainty that he is now. And he's getting worse. Each successive news conference he sounds more and more like the character, Dr. Charles Montague, who was head of "The Place for the Very, Very Nervous" in the 1977 Mel Brooks flick, High Anxiety.

Don got so nutty during his weekly news conference last week that Joint Chiefs head, General Pace, had to reel him in; not once, but twice. The first time was when Pace used the accepted term, "insurgents," to describe the indigenous fighters in Iraq.

Rumsfeld interrupted, waving both hands over his head, to announce that over the weekend he had had an epiphany. We've been using the wrong term entirely to describe the Iraqis killing our troops over there, he pronounced from on high. They are not "insurgents," they are "Enemies of the Legally Elected Iraqi Government," or EOLEIGs. (Guess we know now why Donald never made it as a corporate jingle writer.)

Now ask yourself, what kind of person but a nut, would make such a pronouncement at a time when American kids are being blown up by the dozen each week? And to do so with such pompous grandiosity, on TV, and to cynical, hard-boiled reporters! Only a madman, a person so deeply confused in his own mind that he thinks his absurd ruling actually is contributing to a solution.

What on earth was he thinking? Actually, nothing new. Renaming fighters in Iraq has become a veritable hobby for Don. He's been re-branding the Iraqi fighters since the day we arrived there. Before the war even started he didn't even have a term for them because, he assured us, there would be no opposition to a U.S. attack on their country. But after Saddam was gone and U.S. troops started dying, Don told the same TV cameras to pay them no attention because, he said then, they were just a handful of "Dead-Enders" (D.E.'s).

As conditions in Rumsfeld's newly liberated Iraq deteriorated further, he renamed them again. No longer Dead Enders, they were now "Foreign Terrorist Fighters." And better yet, he said, they had been reduced to a rag-tag bunch that were "in their last throes."

Once Rumsfeld was done revealing his renaming epiphany he gave the microphone back to a clearly embarrassed General Pace. The general was faced with the choice of joining his boss in Looneyland, or using the now banned term, insurgents. Instead he said, Yeah, what he just said.

If Rumsfeld says such nutty things right on TV, you can imagine the thoughts he shares with subordinates back in the privacy of his office at the Pentagon. Where Yeah, what he just said becomes the day's marching orders.

The second time General Pace had to reel Rumsfeld in was when Pace was asked by reporters if U.S. troops in Iraq were supposed to step in and stop Iraqi troops from abusing fellow Iraqis. Pace was in the process of giving the right answer (yes), when Don-in-the-Box popped up again. "But I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it," he corrected the general.

Pace had no choice. "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it."

The look on Rumsfeld's face was the same look parents get when they tell their teenagers, "If your friends start drinking or using drugs you leave that party and come straight home!" You know the look -- the eyeballs rollup as the head jerks dismissively to one side.

From that look it was clear that Rumsfeld believes that, while U.S. troops had the right to invade Iraq, topple its government and occupy the country, they have no business telling Iraqis not to beat, torture or kill their own folks. Not our job, he says. (Administration vice-enabler, Dick Cheney, appears to agree.)

So we now have a certifiable loon in charge of the most powerful military on the face of the earth. Shouldn't someone do something? I mean, if Bush insists on having a nut in this post, at least hire a harmless nut. The world is full of them. He could find less nutty nuts downtown in any major city. Pick one with less dangerous notions than Don has. That way the weekly Pentagon news conferences would continue being ever so entertaining, but fewer people would get killed.

It's time for someone to tell Donald Rumsfeld, "No more fruit cup for you!"

A Failed Presidency?

The first nine months of the George W. Bush presidency foretold what was to come.

If you recall, pre-9/11 George was the quintessential deer in the headlights. He had landed the biggest job in the world, and had no idea what he was supposed to do next.

I was reminded of that look on Monday, when I saw the photo of W. trying to escape reporters' questions in Beijing. It was a telling moment. He ended a news conference with a perfunctory, presidential "Thank you." He strode from the podium, employing his most serious presidential stride. So far, so good. Then his act abruptly collapsed. He pulled the door handle, but the door was locked.

And there he was again, for the whole world to see, pre-9/11 George, lost, adrift and looking for help. Help had always arrived for George before. It arrived and saved him in the nick of time on Sept. 11, 2001. But that kind of help doesn't grow on trees, and now he's on his own again.

September 11 did for George W. Bush what cocaine does for losers; it makes them feel and act like winners. If you've known a cocaine user, you know what I mean. They brim with energy and self-confidence. They listen to no one but their inner buzz. They are cocky, smug, obnoxious. Still, if they are able to focus that buzz, they can create an illusion that they actually know of what they speak, that they are driven -- even leaders.

As long as the cocaine lasts, the illusion can, too. But when it runs out, or stops working, the loser is all that's left. 9/11 has stopped working for George -- so Bush, The Loser, is back.

Not that he was ever gone, which explains why virtually everything he has done since 9/11 has come to naught, or worse. Had 9/11 never happened, W. would be long gone already, a one-term President, like his father before him.

Therefore, the media needs to begin a conversation we would have had around the third year of Bush's first term: Is this a failed presidency? And if so, how?

Let's begin by taking the pulse of America's majority population: Working families. (More)

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Pulling A Nixon On Us?

When did this happen?

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French Fires

How do you explain the rioting that is happening in France? Two words: cheap labor. France, like most other mature Western economies, has embraced cheap labor from underdeveloped countries. That flood of cheap labor has, at least until now, served both corporations and consumers. Corporate earnings are up across the board, for example.

But, you point out, wages are down across the board too. How does that serve consumers -- most of whom are working-class folk?

The answer comes as a single, hyphenated word -- Wal-Mart. Cheap labor produces cheap goods. How many times have you bought something at a Big Box store and said to yourself, I don't know how they can make and sell this item so cheaply? Down deep, of course, you really don't care. You're just happy you got the gizmo for so little.

And it's not just cheap labor abroad that we're addicted to. In both Europe and the U.S., legal and illegal immigration has turned ordinary Americans into cheap labor employers as well. Even a working-class stiff can afford a gardener, a housekeeper and a nanny these days. You can quite literally pick them up right off the street corner.

Want an addition built on to your home? It's almost certain that the only reason you can afford one is because the contractor no longer hires union carpenters. Instead, he picks up a few Mexican carpenters down on a corner, or a hiring hall. They are skilled and hardworking, and they put in a full day for a fraction of what a union carpenter would charge. You're happy. The contractor's happy.But some former union carpenter now works at the local Oil Stop, earning half of what he once made. Then again, that one-time union carpenter is still able to make ends meet, thanks to cheap imported goods -- at least for now.

So far, so good for everyone -- at least it would appear. But there is an inevitable price for all this, and the French are paying it now. There really is no free lunch, even in France. Two dynamics are now in play, even if most Western governments still refuse to acknowledge them.

First, Western economies have been busy for the past 10 years or so stewing the golden geese that made them economic powerhouses in the first place --- their working middle-classes. Workers' real wages have plummeted as their homegrown industries turned to cheaper foreign labor. In the short run, those cheap goods coming back into their countries blunted the effect of lower domestic wages. But that can't go on forever. Sooner or later, Western consumers will run out of both disposable income and available credit. When that happens, the middle-class consumer -- the engine that drives every Western economy -- will stop pulling the train. (We should see the first hint of that here during the coming holiday season.)

Second, low wages paid to immigrants -- many illegal -- create the very conditions that sparked the riots in France. Do the math yourself. If American workers, who have seen their real wages drop like a rock, are beginning to feel the first signs of economic stress, imagine the fiscal conditions that face the average low-wage immigrant family. Such immigrants already live on the economic razor's edge. What they learn -- too late --is that the deck is stacked against them. They cannot join the mainstream of these societies, because allowing them to do so would require paying them a livable wage. And what purpose would that serve, paying immigrants the same as domestic workers? The French, for example, already don't seem to care for having all these folks in their country to begin with. The reason they put up with them is because they work for peanuts.

France may be the first Western nation to experience the downside of cheap imported labor, but it will not be the last. Trapped in ghettos by low wages, stuck in low-end jobs by cultural, racial and religious factors, the lid eventually blows -- always. When that happens the citizens and companies that had benefited from their cheap labor first always go into denial. They are shocked, simply shocked! They blame everyone but themselves for the real reasons behind the violence. The rioters are "scum, stirred up by radical clerics. They are not oppressed, they have no genuine issues. They are just criminals."

Yes, some of the rioters we are seeing in France are criminals. But France's real problem is that French society has become hooked on a pool of surplus immigrant labor. I said "surplus," because that's key to keeping cheap labor cheap. The trouble is that surplus of labor also means that, at any point in time, there are more unemployed immigrants in France than working ones, with more joining that surplus labor pool each day. Tick, tick, tick.

America is lucky in that our flood of immigrants comes largely from Mexico, a generally peaceful country populated by peaceful people. (Have you ever heard of a Mexican suicide bomber?) France's immigrants, by comparison, largely herald from poor Muslim countries, like former French colonies in North Africa -- a part of the world where political/social/religous violence is the norm rather than the exception.

But the Americans and the French have their thirst for cheap labor in common. And sooner or later, social unrest will hit here as well. Here, I suspect it will be American workers who got a taste of middle-class life, only to have it snatched away from them. Those once well-paid Americans now find themselves stranded between the rich, who are getting richer, and the working poor, who are getting poorer.

The middle ground upon which they once stood has all but disappeared. They may not understand the macro-economic reasons for that, but they know this much -- they no longer have the means of moving up the economic ladder, and they have no intentions of joining the working poor.

When that realization sinks in, even dirt-cheap toaster ovens at Wal-Mart won't help.

Lying and Dying Redux

There's only one story that's important today, and it's not President Bush's latest pick for the Supreme Court. It's this one:

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The Whack Job on Harriet Miers

The sedans pulled up in rapid succession as dusk settled over Washington last evening. Men in winter coats exited the backseats and walked briskly, heads down, into the building to an emergency meeting of party Capos. Permission was needed to dispose of a member who had become a liability.

The case for "whacking" the problem member was heard. Sober heads around the room nodded agreement. A contract was approved.

By sun up, Harriet Miers was history.

Karl Rove may have more to worry about from his boss than prosecutor Fitzgerald. Even the most loyal members of this gang are expendable when they become a liability. One of the gangs' former bosses, Richard Nixon, had his two closest aides whacked -- in what proved to be a futile effort to save his own skin -- when investigators began closing in on him.

Already we are seeing evidence that Bush may be getting ready to whack his own loyal aide, Karl "Turd Blossom" Rove. They have already brought in sub-capo Ed Gillespie to fill the hole. Eddy is already giving interviews, while Karl is nowhere to be seen. Bad sign.

Over at Cheney's crib, his right hand man, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was seen yesterday hobbling around on crutches. No, he wasn't knee-capped - at least not yet. He was playing the sympathy card, trying to look too pathetic to indict -- or whack.

These are dangerous days. It's housecleaning time within the inner circles of  the Bush operation. It's the natural cycle for such organizations. Ranking members become radioactive after years of doing the boss's bidding, and they must be jettisoned. Those that can be trusted to keep their mouths shut are allowed to retire to lucrative, non-work positions on corporate boards. Those they suspect might run off at the mouth are whacked -- discredited, smeared, banished.

Fresh blood is moved up to fill the vacant positions. But, while eager to please the boss, these newcomers are green. They lack the years of street smarts possessed by the dearly departed they've replaced -- which makes all that eagerness a new disaster just waiting to happen.

Meanwhile, the boss, who does not trust new faces, has to figure out how he can keep the lid on the past while also staying in business. With Karl, all George had to say when he needed a job done was, "You know what to do, Karl." With a new guy, he might think Bush means, "Ed, you know what to do -- do the right thing."

As of this this morning, it's one problem gone and two to go -- Karl and Scooter.  If I were either man, I'd hire someone to start my car every morning for the next week or so.

Meanwhile, Patrick "Elliot Ness" Fitzgerald may have discovered another of the gang's operations over in Niger. A curious fellow by nature, Fitz could not have investigated Ambassador Joe Wilson's fact-finding trip to Niger without noticing the "facts" he was sent to find out about. To wit - those phony documents that supposedly proved that Iraq had been seeking uranium yellow cake from Niger. (Document images and translations, here).

Those documents proved to be forgeries -- that we know. What we don't know is, who forged them? It sure as hell wasn't a CIA job, since the CIA never believed the Niger tale from the get-go. But Cheney sure did -- or at least he said he did.

So the question remains hanging out there --  who planted those phony documents -- and just in time for Bush to hawk them in a pre-war State of the Union message?  
Until we find out the answer to that question the CIA leak investigation will  not be complete. (More)

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Preparing for a Bumpy Ride

If Bette Davis were still with us, she'd have a piece of advice for the American public: "Better buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy ride."

Yes, all hell is about to break loose. As I said in an early column, I've been here before and I can tell you, it ain't gonna be pretty. The process that is about to begin is a bit like the whole body politic getting a colonic. I remember how it left the nation weak and disoriented for a decade or more. I am, of course, speaking of Watergate -- different cast of characters, same crimes.

In the Watergate era we still had people in Congress, from both parties, with the integrity and backbone to pursue the matter on their own. But those folks have been replaced by the political equivalent of street gang members who make their judgments based on whether the other guy is wearing red or blue.

So forget Congress. This time the sword is wielded by an independent prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald -- who is, by all reports, a genuine Dudley Dooright:

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Welcome to Faith-Based America

What's wrong with this picture?

As part of President Bush's "faith-based initiative," US taxpayers gave the Salvation Army's children services division $47 million this year -- 95% of its total budget. Several Salvation Army employees refused to take the Salvation Army's pledge "proclaiming Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord," reveal which church they belong to or identify gay co-workers -- and were summarily fired.

Let's parse this event out. The money came from American taxpayers, many of whom are not Christians. Nevertheless the workers were fired for refusing to pledge allegiance to the Christian prophet. They were also fired for failing to disclose their own religious affiliations, if any. And finally, they were fired for refusing to rat out their co-workers.

Sounds like something that would happen in Communist China, doesn't it? And, if it had happened in China, and it was Christians getting fired, you can bet your sweet bippy the Bush administration and America's Christian right would be screaming bloody murder about it.

But not this time. They even found a judge to back them on it.

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10 Pledges to Demand from Democrats

The current issue of The Nation magazine contains an important essay by Bob Borosage, head of the Center for America's Future. Like many of us, Bob has spent the last few years watching in awe and shock as the Democrats triangulated themselves into irrelevancy. With there being no realistic hope a viable progressive third part will emerge he and other progressive thinkers have been trying to figure out how to round up our wayward mule team and get it hitched back to the right wagon.

Bob's article, "A *Real* Contract With America," is an important step in that direction. In it he lays out a set of clear pledges Democrat candidates can embrace in the upcoming '06 and '08 races.

Such a "contract" is critical if Democrats are going to once again become a great party, and here's why. Democrats will regain some seats in both houses in coming elections. How could they not, considering the mess the GOP has made of things since becoming the majority party? And therein lies the entire current platform of the Democrat Party -- "Vote for us because we are not them."

But winning only because the other team committed too many errors is not the same thing as governing. It's simply being the only other alternative -- the lesser of evils. And that's not a foundation upon which greatness can be built.

You hear it every day in Washington: "Democrats have no ideas, no programs, no deeply held beliefs, no lines in the sand they will not cross." The only discernible passion Democrats display is a passion to be in power again. But in power to do what? You tell me. I have no friggin idea, and I deeply suspect neither do they.

That's why we need to force them to sign a contract with us this time. To put it bluntly, we don't trust them any longer. They've double-crossed at every major moment -- on war, on taxes, on the environment, on health care. They took or votes and our hopes and bargained them away to the enemy for the political equivalent of nylons, smokes and chocolate bars.

So I took the points Bob listed in his article, "embellished" them and put them into the form of 10 contractual pledges Democrat candidates can and should embrace. (To see Bob's original -- un-Pizzo'ed -- list click here.) Here is my list, which began as Bob's list, and will hopefully become every Democrat's list:

A Progressive Contract With America

If elected to office I promise to fully, enthusiastically and aggressively work to pass legislation that achieves the following goals:

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A Doozie of a Recession

Of course George W. Bush will blame it all on the war and two hurricanes. In fact, it's a direct result of his own flawed economic policies and the "borrow and spend" lifestyle he sparked, not only within government, but consumers as well.

I am referring to the looming recession. It's going to be a doozie. And it has begun, as it always does, when consumers suddenly discover they can no longer keep pace with their bills.

That would have happened a couple of years ago already, had it not been for the housing bubble. Like all bubbles it was ordinary folk who eagerly fueled the Ponzi, an inverted pyramid sure to topple once it became top-heavy. As with all previous bubbles, everyone crushed by that inevitable collapse figured they were too smart to get caught by it. They figured they'd be well out of Dodge with the booty long before that happened.

So they bought homes bigger than they needed, and each time rates dropped or prices jumped in their area they refinanced, pulling a bit more booty out each time; for a pool, landscaping, or a new car. They had time. The economists said there was no bubble, prices were going up because of natural demand, not speculation. And so they stayed in Dodge. They let it ride, they let it all ride on successive spins of the wheel of fortune.

But now the hot housing market has begun to cool. Prices in the hottest markets have flattened. Houses listed for sale have grown as those who waited too long rush to cash in. Days on the market are marching upward as buyers become increasingly scarce.

That's only one indication that the end is near for George W. Bush's phony recovery -- a "recovery" bought with tax cuts he cannot repeat, and with consumer spending fueled by borrowed money, which is no longer available. Hell, consumers may not even be able to make good on the money they've already borrowed. The indicators indicate that is so:

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New Orleans Speaks For Me

I was watching the video coming out of New Orleans last night and had a deja vu moment.

I've seen this before, and not long ago. The looting, the lawlessness; modern office buildings burning unattended, gangs of ordinary people dragging booty along devastated streets.

Oh yeah, Baghdad after the fall of Saddam. There seems to be a trend here. In Iraq and now in New Orleans, this administration seems to suffer from post-action paralysis, a deadly lack of follow through.

In both cases our staggeringly expensive, well-fed, swaggering, backslapping, incestuous military/industrial infrastructure has had to pause and collect itself. What ensued was a kind of unfunny Keystone Cops/Who's On First routine. "Hey, I thought you brought the fire trucks?... I don't have the MREs, I thought General Fred was doing that ... Hey, there's water in the streets, no one told us to bring boats... "

During this phase those who are supposed to be in charge and taking care of business, instead waste valuable time assuring us they really do know what they are doing, and are doing it. The guy where the buck used to stop, President Bush, mitigates his bumbling by repeating in a stutter that "it" (defined as anything he happens to be screwing up at the moment) is "hard." And that because it's "hard" those suffering should get off his back so "I can do my job."

CNN's Anderson Cooper lost it yesterday. He had been in the middle of the worst of the mess for three days, comforting people and stumbling over dead bodies. He was clearly exhausted when he interviewed Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. Mary wanted to use CNN's airtime to "thank the President for his concern," and "thank members of Congress" for pushing through a $10 billion emergency appropriation for the area. That's when Cooper interrupted her.

"Senator, I don't think you quite get it," Cooper snapped. "The last thing the people down here want to hear right now is a bunch of politicians congratulating one another. People are dying down here and they are not getting the help they need right now."

Landrieu was clearly stunned and bumbled through the rest of the interview by saying that "there will be plenty of time later to assess blame."

Yes, there certainly will be.

Then there is this administration's deadly learning disability. One would think they learned something in Baghdad, that the first thing you need to do in the aftermath of a war or disaster is get lots of bodies in there and reinstate law and order. Everything else -- rescue, relief and rebuilding -- depends on order, and a secure environment.

Those big-talking neo-cons ignored that rule in Iraq. There was little or no post-event planning, and too few troops and equipment on the ground to deal with it, and Americans and Iraqis are still dying because of that. Now they've done it again, only this time right here at home.

George Bush likes to throw the term "accountability" around whenever he's talking about low-ranking public servants, particularly teachers. But there's no accountability among his own employees and appointees. Former CIA chief, George Tenet should have been fired. Instead he was given a medal. Former Assistant Secretary of Defense, Paul "Iraqi-oil-will-pay-for-the-war" Wolfowitz, should have been fired. Instead he was promoted to head of the World Bank. Secretary of Defense, Don Rumsfeld, should have been fired for his failures in Iraq. Now, he should be canned for his failure to respond to the largest natural (and human) disaster in U.S. history –- but of course, he won't be. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there's not a medal in this mess for Rumsfeld too.

America has suffered many ills over the past couple of centuries, but never such arrogant and incompetent leadership as this bunch. In five short years they have: 1) looted the Treasury into insolvency and backbreaking debt; 2) invaded a sovereign nation on false pretenses; 3) traded America's once robust working middle-class for cheap offshore, sweatshop labor; and 4) further enriched the already rich while further impoverishing the impoverished.

Now they are extending their reverse Midas Touch on the poor victims of Hurricane Katrina, as if the people have not already suffered enough.

Who is going to say "stop?" Who's going to stand up and say these people must be prevented from doing any more damage? When will a coalition of moderate, sane members of Congress come together and decide that, if we can't impeach this man, then let's confine him. Come together and form a shadow government within the legislative branch. Bottle up stupid and harmful legislation while passing much-needed sensible, humane legislation. And then be ready to override the inevitable vetoes. Stop crazy people from being appointed for life to our federal courts – especially the Supreme Court.

Call it a legislative branch coup if you must. But it's long past time for those who know better, those in both parties, to declare the skipper incompetent and take charge. Leave him muttering and raging alone in his office, fidgeting with his ball bearings and accusing those around him of disloyalty. The time has come. The standard exceeded. The evidence is piled high around us.

If a President can be impeached for lying about sex, what do we do with one who has divided our nation, disrupted large parts of the world and endangered the very environment that sustains human life? Let him continue on, unfettered, for three more years? Is that our fate?

We all live in New Orleans right now.

I watched a woman trapped in New Orleans screaming on CNN last night, "We need help! Someone save us!"

She spoke for me, and for the nation.

The Wrong Apology

The wrong person apologized yesterday.

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Double Standard On Drugs

The Food and Drug Administration just issued a warning on RU-486 – the drug used to cause medical abortions – after two women died from secondary infections after taking the pill to end their pregnancies. But the FDA waited until about 27,000 people had died from heart attacks and strokes while taking arthritis drug Vioxx before pulling that drug. Why the discrepancy?

The FDA is not exactly known as a Johnny-on-the-spot agency. "Slow" and "careful" are its middle names – slow to approve generic drugs that might cut into the profits of large pharmaceutical companies, and careful not to do or say anything that could hurt the sales of those companies' hot sellers. The bodies have to really pile up before the FDA pulls the plug on a popular drug.

Which is what made the Nov. 15 FDA announcement so unusual. The death of one woman last January prompted the FDA to issue a warning notice on the so-called abortion pill, RU-486. The woman did not die as a direct cause of the medication, but rather a secondary infection that set in afterward. It was only the second such case reported after using RU-486.

Compare that FDA response to its handling of Merck's hot-selling arthritis pill, Vioxx. Warnings on that pill have been flooding in from around the world for more than two years – warnings the FDA ignored. The pill worked fine at alleviating pain – especially for the estimated 27,000 users it killed. It seems Vioxx had some nasty side affects: heart attacks and strokes.

Why did it take so long for the FDA to pull the plug on Vioxx, even though it had hard proof the drug was killing thousands of people every year? And, conversely, why was it so quick to issue a warning on RU-486 based on two deaths not even directly connected to the drug?

Would money surprise you? Merck was a big contributor to GOP coffers, and they make sure they hire lobbyists with strong ties to the Bush camp.  Meanwhile, RU-486 contributed nothing. The company that produces it is not even American, but French. And that company has been the target of anti-choice forces since the day RU-486 first hit the market.

The anti-choice Christian right has had some limited success in curtailing the drug's availability, even for medical research into the drug's other possible applications. Anti-choicers were temporarily successful in blocking the drug in the United States, gaining an FDA order that banned the import of RU-486 from 1989 until 1993. Opponents have also launched boycotts against French pharmaceutical company Roussel-Uclaf; the drug maker's German parent company, Hoechst A.G., as well as their American affiliates; and have threatened to boycott any other pharmaceutical company that makes RU-486 available.

But RU-486 is so safe and effective, its use in the United States has grown steadily. Then came George W. Bush's re-election on the backs of the Christian right, and two weeks later, the FDA issued its warning on RU-486.

Bush always says he wants to see "the good science" before making tough decisions on such matters. So let's see how the science works out on this:

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