Thursday, March 30, 2006

Iraq: A Proposal for Compromise

No matter how bad it gets in Iraq, one thing is certain: George Bush will continue to deny the state of affairs and insist that its not as bad as it looks. All the while coninuing the same course of action.

At first we were to accept only victory. Now we're down to "progress".

I propose a compromise:

Let's pull out the troops and declare "victory". Let's be honest, no matter what happens in Iraq, the pro-war supporters will claim "victory". If we pull them out now, the troops will be home, not much will change in Iraq and pro-war folks have their victory now rather than later. Meanwhile, W can continue to give speeches about how good things are going in Iraq.

Everyone happy, no?

Whores and Congress

to paraphrase Mark Twain, "but I repeat myself".


I'm starting to resent the repeated references to Congress as "whores".

In defense of whores, whores only sell what is *theirs*.

Congress, on the other hand, is selling what is ours. And it is we that are getting "screwed".

If only Congress were populated by whores. Perhaps then they'd only be selling themselves for profit and not us.

Jackson's Horse Allegory

Found it on the internet, so it must be true, right?

The Independent Institute

"The code of tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

In law firms, we often try other strategies with dead horses, including the following: buying a stronger whip; changing riders; saying things like 'this is the way we have always ridden this horse'; appointing a committee to study the horse; arranging to visit other firms to see how they ride dead horses; increasing the standards to ride dead horses; declaring that the horse is better, faster, and cheaper dead; and finally, harnessing several dead horses together for increased speed."

-- Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, 16 February 1999, in the courtroom after lunch on the second day of testimony from Microsoft's Brad Chase.

The Second-Best Sales Job Ever

I recently began to more fully appreciate religion. What a fantastic concept.. at least from a sales perspective. Think of it!

The Pitch:
You give me something tangible ( money, food, clothing, etc. ) and in exchange I will promise you X after you die.

Billions of people every day are sold a better existence that doesn't kick in until after they die.

"We've had no complaints yet."

So what is *The Best* sales job ever?

"Go kill yourself by exploding a bomb strapped to your body, and in return you'll get..."

That's right. The sales person is too lazy to even bother to help you into the next world. You have to do it yourself. Talk about crappy customer service.

In my mind, I can hear Michael Palin's halting but somehow soothing voice delivering the pitch:
"Oh, yeah, well by the way: you'll er.. How do I put this tactfully? You see, in order to actually collect, you'll need to blow yourself up. We really can't be seen as involved. Bad press and all. Its such a personal thing, really. Just think of it as going out on your own terms, so to speak..."

Western religions, be on notice; you're losing the sales war.

Two More Truisms

Two more truisms from "The Talent Show":

( I added the emphasis in the second paragraph ).

Which is where most Republicans would start talking about tax "reform" as if raising the taxes of the poor is going to help someone who isn't even lucky enough to live paycheck to paycheck. If businesses insist on paying immigrants shit, the least they should do is pass along the difference to help offset they problem they're creating. Better yet, they should stop being allowed to break the law and save a few bucks. Or to paraphrase something I wrote earlier, breaking the law should always be more expensive than obeying it.

We've got a serious immigration problem in this country that's the fault of businesses who have shifted jobs from American workers to illegal immigrants and the goverment that's looked the other way for decades. The idea that the President and his allies want to codify this second class of workers (and solidify the division between the two) shows you how out of touch he is with working men and women. The struggle in the streets of Los Angeles and elsewhere isn't one between immigrants and Americans, but between the working class and the business/government entities that are looking for new avenues to cheap labor, even if it means exploiting ethnic tensions to turn people against each other.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Port Security Outsourced to Chinese

W slept through the entire attempted CNOOC (Chinese national oil) takover of a major share of American petroleum production and the subsequent rejection. Strangely, W lept out of bed and announced two (Two! Veto, even! ) threats of veto if the Dubai ports deal were outlawed?

Well contrary to past Republican opinion of the deal, looks like W have decided to outsource only the most critical portions of port security this time.
( How do they manage to keep screwing up like this? Is there a crack team inside the administration dedicated to stupid maneuvers? )

Josh Marshall at TPM

We need to oursource W.

Saddam "official" met with Osama!

More excuses from Andrew Sullivan:

"A newly released prewar Iraqi document indicates that an official representative of Saddam Hussein's government met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan on February 19, 1995, after receiving approval from Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden asked that Iraq broadcast the lectures of Suleiman al Ouda, a radical Saudi preacher, and suggested "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. According to the document, Saddam's presidency was informed of the details of the meeting on March 4, 1995, and Saddam agreed to dedicate a program for them on the radio. The document states that further "development of the relationship and cooperation between the two parties to be left according to what's open [in the future] based on dialogue and agreement on other ways of cooperation." The Sudanese were informed about the agreement to dedicate the program on the radio."

Saddam authorized officials to meet with Osama?

Umm... didn't the CIA more or less *train* Osama in the Afghanni war against the (country formerly known as) U.S.S.R.? I guess sending him tons of dough, stinger missiles and terrorist training followed by turning him loose after the Soviet pull-out is less damning than a "meeting"?

Do we invade Virginia next? I have it on good sources that there are WMDs in the area...

I'm not an America basher. We had good reasons for fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Turning Osama loose after that... maybe not so smart.

Invading some other piss-ant country as a diversion from getting the *real* guy. Stupid.

Stop trying to justify the Iraq war. It was wrong. Stop it with the "but ... but.. " it just undermines your integrity. It was overhyped. America was duped.

Let's dump this nightmare that we elected, capture Osama and use his cell as the cornerstone of the new Trade Center.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

American Taliban II

From Savage Love:

Straight Rights Update: Earlier this month, Republicans in South Dakota successfully banned abortion in that state. Last week, the GOP-controlled state house of representatives in Missouri voted to ban state-funded family-planning clinics from dispensing birth control. "If you hand out contraception to single women," one Republican state rep told the Kansas City Star, "we're saying promiscuity is okay." On the federal level, Republicans are blocking the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception and keeping a 100 percent effective HPV vaccine—a vaccine that will save the lives of thousands of women every year—from being made available.

The GOP's message to straight Americans: If you have sex, we want it to fuck up your lives as much as possible. No birth control, no emergency contraception, no abortion services, no life-saving vaccines. If you get pregnant, tough shit. You're going to have those babies, ladies, and you're going to make those child-support payments, gentlemen. And if you get HPV and it leads to cervical cancer, well, that's too bad. Have a nice funeral, slut.

What's it going to take to get a straight-rights movement off the ground? The GOP in Kansas is seeking to criminalize hetero heavy petting, for God's sake! Wake up and smell the freaking Holy War, breeders! The religious right hates heterosexuality just as much as it hates homosexuality. Fight back!

Banning abortions, banning birth control, banning vaccines for cerivcal cancer... fucking ridiculous.

Let's go ahead and push this to the logical next level: let's hit the guys. When they're finished putting the women "back in the kitchen" who will they turn to next? Bans of pre-marital sex, looking at women, porn, masturbation, pulling out early... CONDOMS?

Do these people really have so little to occupy their tiny minds that they spend all day worrying about the sex lives of people they don't even know?

Let's make it crystal-freakin' clear exactly what these assholes are: American Taliban.

Why do these conservatives loathe Islam so much when they share so many of its goals?

The Base

In almost every news article that mentions George W. Bush, the article invariably mentions Bush being concerned with "his base". Nurturing "the base", paying attention to "the base", etc.

Does it strike anyone as unusual that the translation of "al Qaeda" is "The Base"?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bush Surrenders; Troops Stay Put

Huffington Post

Davis Sweet Wed Mar 22, 12:30 AM ET

Today, we saw our commander-in-cheap sell our fighting forces to the political machine. "Future presidents," he says, "and (wink-wink) governments of
Iraq" will clean up his screw-up. He's going to nap for the remainder of his term, secure in the belief that America's discount democracy will choose someone competent next time around.

Bush has morphed from chicken-hawk to chicken-chicken, abrogating his responsibility to protect and defend the place because it's just too taxing to do the work it'd take get our soldiers home. Only this time, unlike his fratboy scooch out of Indochina, there's not just one soldier going in his place (my money's on Marine PFC D. C. Carter, born a month after Bush in New Haven, Connecticut, killed November 12, 1969, Panel 16W, Line 62 on the memorial). There's over a hundred thousand at a time, rotating in and out -- or, frequently, right back in -- originally on a fool's errand; now just on indefinite hold until somebody comes along with presidential authority and a desire to get them home with all the parts they started with.

This Bonzo has tried to fight two wars on the cheap. He sent an embarrassingly light force into
Afghanistan to get the cave-mad "mastermind" who god-conned nineteen fanatics into offing themselves and as many American non-warriors as they could. The supposed strategy: buy off the already-fighting locals, horse feed being cheaper than coordinated bombing raids, and have them fight the war. The glaring hole in the head: the other guys buy off the same locals, and we end up with an escaped Public Enemy Number One, a prison camp full of farmers, and, all right, a nice oil pipeline.

On to Iraq, where the coalition of the cheap took out a local thug in three weeks. Cool! Pop the airhead, and feel the thrilling whoosh of the power vacuum. That'll be 1.7 billion dollars, please. Drive ahead.

Oh, we have to be the cops now? We have to be the strongman holding together the imaginary state? Well, as long as we can do it with underwhelming force and it only takes a decade. Won't the oil pay for it by then anyway? Well, according to the just-FOIA'ed prewar "plans" from the felonious Iraqi exiles and Cheney's flying monkeys in the "Future of Iraq" scam, there's not even enough oil capacity per year in that place to pay for two months of the cheap-ass invasion. (Fave quote: "...effective use of Iraq's resources (oil) [is key] to Iraq's future stability..." p. 40 of the "Defense" PDF) They estimated the country could spurt about ten billion bucks' worth, per annum, into our gaping SUVs, vs. the 6 billion a month it costs us to keep our guys and gals in the Halliburton chow line. Three more years, minimum, says we'll send another 200 billion chasing the 251 billion we'll have thrown down by the end of this month. For securing potential oil revenues in the 100 billion dollars a decade range, I think this deal blows.

How 'bout we invade Kansas, take their soybeans and flax, make biodiesel, and... whoops, started imagining plans where our soldiers don't get their limbs scattered. What country was I thinking?

Anyway, after this latest wimp Bush Wal-Marts the global struggle/war against violent sloganeering, he trembles when the bill arrives. I call bullshit. You don't get to just throw up your hands and cower behind Lady Liberty's skirts when there are real people patrolling your IED- and mine-infested war game.

Isn't there a natural point where the surrender monkey has to give up the reins of the war horse? Where he doesn't get to control the lid on the rapidly boiling combat zones, trapping our men and women in his mistakes like so many lobsters back at the ranch in Connecticut?

There may be, as the war-cheerleaders say, no good options in Iraq. The official leader of the force lying down on the job, though, is a no-good option for sure.


Ok, so finally many people are starting to realize that our last (two) selections for president were... shall we say... not ideal.

We've known for a long time that nearly every other official that's been elected has been more interested in corruption than making our town/county/state/country better.

So what to do to fix this?

Well, the ideal thing to do would be to select only qualified individuals for office in the first place and watch them like a hawk. First hint of conflict of interest, we throw the bums out.

Unfortunately, not only is there no way to accomplish this, its unlikely that the method(s) would be adopted even if we could figure out a way to do it.

I've got a different (though probably not new) idea: None Of The Above.

Right now, each of the two parties slaughters a goat, examines the entrails on a new moon and selects the person with the most money as their new "candidate".

Don't like the selection? Then vote for the 3rd party candidate.

Ha ha ha ha. Had you there, didn't I? With a few exceptions, there's really no better than either of the two "primary" choices. Just usually more poorly funded.

So most people give up in frustration and just stay home.

We all know what its like when they hold an election and no one shows. Most voter turn-out rates hover near 25%. But it doesn't have to be that way. What if you didn't like any of the choices and could vote your mind? That's what NOTA would signal: None Of The Above.

If NOTA won the majority, then the parties would be forced to go back to the drawing board. Hopefully, once they were embarrassed by this a few times, we would start to see better offerings.

I'm under no delusion that NOTA will be welcomed by any of the folks involved in administering elections. But if you have the opportunity to vote for a write-in candidate and you don't like the options given, write in "None Of The Above".

And tell your friends. Maybe we can start turning this thing around.

Jane Sums It Up

Jane Smiley gives the newly-converted Bush haters ( the slow folks? ) a well-deserved thrashing.

In my opinion, she started drifting off the subject there for a while, so as a free service ( ;-) I offered my "tightened up" version here. It consists of a simple snip of a few 'graffs in the middle.

While I'm at it, I should also note that I differ from her WRT Sandra Day O'Conner as well. I'm not familiar with S.D.O's support for Bush either explicit or implicit. Maybe someone can enlighten me?

Huffington Post

Jane Smiley Wed Mar 22, 1:58 AM ET

Bruce Bartlett, The Cato Institute, Andrew Sullivan, George Packer, William F. Buckley,
Sandra Day O'Connor, Republican voters in Indiana and all the rest of you newly-minted dissenters from Bush's faith-based reality seem, right now, to be glorying in your outrage, which is always a pleasure and feels, at the time, as if it is having an effect, but those of us who have been anti-Bush from day 1 (defined as the day after the stolen 2000 election) have a few pointers for you that should make your transition more realistic.

1. Bush doesn't know you disagree with him. Nothing about you makes you of interest to George W. Bush once you no longer agree with and support him. No degree of relationship (father, mother, etc.), no longstanding friendly intercourse (Jack Abramoff), no degree of expertise (Brent Scowcroft), no essential importance (
Tony Blair, American voters) makes any difference. There is nothing you have to
offer that makes Bush want to know you once you have come to disagree with him. Your opinions and feelings now exist in a world entirely external to the mind of George W. Bush. You are now just one of those "polls" that he pays no attention to. When you were on his side, you thought that showed "integrity" on his part. It doesn't. It shows an absolute inability to learn from experience.

2. Bush doesn't care whether you disagree with him. As a man who has dispensed with the reality-based world, and is entirely protected by his handlers from feeling the effects of that world, he is indifferent to what you now think is real. Is the
Iraq war a failure and a quagmire? Bush doesn't care. Is global warming beginning to affect us right now? So what. Have all of his policies with regard to
Iran been misguided and counter-productive? He never thinks about it. You know that Katrina tape in which Bush never asked a question? It doesn't matter how much you know or how passionately you feel or, most importantly, what degree of disintegration you see around you, he's not going to ask you a question. You and your ideas are dead to him. You cannot change his mind. Nine percent of polled Americans would agree with attacking Iran right now. To
George Bush, that will be a mandate, if and when he feels like doing it, because...

3. Bush does what he feels like doing and he deeply resents being told, even politely, that he ought to do anything else. This is called a "sense of entitlement". Bush is a man who has never been anywhere and never done anything, and yet he has been flattered and cajoled into being president of the United States through his connections, all of whom thought they could use him for their own purposes. He has a surface charm that appeals to a certain type of American man, and he has used that charm to claim all sorts of perks, and then to fail at everything he has ever done. He did not complete his flight training, he failed at oil investing, he was a front man and a glad-hander as a baseball owner. As the Governor of Texas, he originated one educational program that turned out to be a debacle; as the President of the US, his policies have constituted one screw-up after another. You have stuck with him through all of this, made excuses for him, bailed him out. From his point of view, he is perfectly entitled by his own experience to a sense of entitlement. Why would he ever feel the need to reciprocate? He's never had to before this.

President Bush is your creation. When the US Supreme Court humiliated itself in 2000 by handing the presidency to Bush even though two of the justices (Scalia and Thomas) had open conflicts of interest, you did not object. When the Bush administration adopted an "Anything but Clinton" policy that resulted in ignoring and dismissing all warnings of possible terrorist attacks on US soil, you went along with and made excuses for Bush. When the Bush administration allowed the corrupt Enron corporation to swindle California ratepayers and taxpayers in a last ditch effort to balance their books in 2001, you laughed at the Californians and ignored the links between Enron and the administration. When it was evident that the evidence for the war in Iraq was cooked and that State Department experts on the Middle East were not behind the war and so it was going to be run as an exercise in incompetence, you continued to attack those who were against the war in vicious terms and to defend policies that simply could not work. On intelligent design, global warming, doctoring of scientific results to reflect ideology, corporate tax giveaways, the K Street project, the illegal redistricting of Texas, torture at Gitmo and
Abu Ghraib, the
Terry Schiavo fiasco, and the cronyism that led to the destruction of New Orleans you have failed to speak out with integrity or honesty, preferring power to truth at every turn. Bush does what he wants because you have let him.

5. Tyranny is your creation. What we have today is the natural and inevitable outcome of ideas and policies you have promoted for the last generation. I once knew a guy who was still a Marxist in 1980. Whenever I asked him why Communism had failed in Russia and China, he said "Mistakes were made". He could not believe that Marxism itself was at fault, just as you cannot believe that the ideology of the unregulated free market has created the world we live in today. You are tempted to say: "Mistakes have been made", but in fact, psychologically and sociologically, no mistakes have been made. The unregulated free market has operated to produce a government in its own image. In an unregulated free market, for example, cheating is merely another sort of advantage that, supposedly, market forces might eventually "shake out" of the system. Of course, anyone with common sense understands that cheaters do damage that sometimes cannot be repaired before they are "shaken out", but according to the principles of the unregulated free market, the victims of that sort of damage are just out of luck and the damage that happens to them is just a sort of "culling". It is no accident that our government is full of cheaters--they learned how to profit from cheating when they were working in corporations that were using bribes, perks, and secret connections to cheat their customers of good products, their neighbors of healthy environmental conditions, their workers of workplace safety and decent paychecks. It was only when the corporations began cheating their shareholders that any of you squealed, but you should know from your own experience that the unregulated free market as a "level playing field" was the biggest laugh of the 20th century. No successful company in the history of capitalism has ever favored open competition. When you folks pretended, in the eighties, that you weren't using the ideology of the free market to cover your own manipulations of the playing field to your own advantage, you may have suckered yourselves, and even lots of American workers, but observers of capitalism since Adam Smith could have told you it wasn't going to work.


Now you are fleeing him, but it's only because he's got the earmarks of a loser. Your problem is that you don't know why he's losing. You think he's made mistakes. But no. He's losing because the ideas that you taught him and demonstrated for him are bad ideas, self-destructive ideas, and even suicidal ideas. And they are immoral ideas. You should be ashamed of yourselves because not only have your ideas not worked to make the world a better place, they were inhumane and cruel to begin with, and they have served to cultivate and excuse the inhumane and cruel character traits of those who profess them.

6. As Bad as Bush is, Cheney is Worse.

Monday, March 13, 2006

To Andrew Sullivan

I'm not trying to attack you. I agree with a lot of your opinions and I have a high regard for your willingness to admit mistakes. But you seem to be allowing this "no one could have predicted the lack of WMDs" argument to distract you from our current situation in Iraq.

You seem quite happy to point out that "before the war, no one could prove there were no WMDs".

Putting the onus on anti-invasion arguments to prove a negative was a brilliant rhetorical sucess for the administration.

Your argument implies that since no one could prove there were no WMDs prior to invasion, no one could have predicted we wouldn't find them.

Pro-WMD evidence was just as flimsy as the "evidence" of a Saddam/Al Queda link. Many people interpreted the Ron Popeil hard-sell for invasion as an indication that something else was afoot. Many also suspected that WMDs were a misdirection towards the larger red hering that was Iraq. How did invading Iraq bring us immediately closer to our main goal: the capture of Bin Laden?

Those that dared voice these concerns were attacked as anti-American -- denunciation of skepticism being another indicator of an argument's intellectual dubiousness. Joseph Wilson's case shows that these vicious attacks were vetted and supported by the administration just as surely and ruthlessly as torture is abided today.

The WMD evidence was insufficient to justify invasion. It was then and remains so now.

Since no one could prove there were no WMD in Iraq, you seem to be using this "failure" to somehow justify continuing the current course in Iraq.

Iraq was a long shot but winning was possible. Due to many factors, including the gross incompetence with which the affair was and continues to be handled, it is all but certainly now doomed to failure.

You are now in a position similar to when you supported the invasion. You are allowing your desire for a certain end to cloud your judgement of evidence. Things are not going well in Iraq and no amount of "well, its not a civil war *yet*" will cause things to improve.

To win, the administration must

1) Measure the current situation
2) admit there are problems
3) determine what those problems are
4) create solutions
5) implement them.

Unfortunately the adminstration has no history of 1or 2, let alone any of the rest.

You see the evidence against your current conclusion ( but you just can't let go of the hope that a miracle may be in the future. God helps those who help themselves. The administration's ineptitude is hurting any chance of success.

After the end is known and the administration continues to blame the media for the failure, will you then state that no one could have known we would fail?

Friday, March 10, 2006

God's going through a lot right now. Deepak Chopra points out that the rise in fundamentalism may be a response to the declining power of religion overall:


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

I'm just trying to imagine the folks that developed this software. Every time someone walked up to their desk they had to say something like, "Seriously, dude. I'm doing work!"

Where were websites like this when I was a kid?


Friday, March 03, 2006

Those That Fail to Learn From History...

“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” - Winston Churchill

Say, doesn't W have a Bachelor's in History from Yale?
George W. Bush's White House bio

India to finance Iraq War

Strange. Bush advocates sending jobs to India, yet doesn't mention that offshored jobs don't pay U.S. taxes. How is the US to finance the Iraq War? India doesn't seem keen to do it.

Perhaps we'll be able to finance the Iraq War through all the money we save on cheaper goods and services from abroad.


Belief vs Reality

“We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”
— George Orwell, “In Front of Your Nose.” 1946

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Media's Competition

"The Media" has expressed concern over the rise of bloggers and is anxious that bloggers will be more successful.

How weak does one have to be to be worried that some random person with no credibility or integrity to speak of could post something to the web and steal trust from the mainstream media. Not only has the credibility of the mainstream media sunk to non-existent levels, they've just admitted it.

The Secret of Stewart

Did you hear that? Something strange has happened. The Daily Show, which doesn’t try to be anything but fake, has gained loyal fans because of its truthfulness.

Th e Mercury News

This quote says less about The Daily's Show's successes than the failures of "The Media"

I'm stupefied that "The Media" is so amazed at his ratings. Its simple folks: He actually questions what is going on. He doesn't just let his guests rattle off some bullshit unchallenged. He's not afraid to speak what every (educated) person is thinking: "Why is this crap allowed to continue?"

He's popular because he's the only "newssource" that isn't only concerned with selling koolaid. What he's showing is intelligence and integrity. Not to mention that the Republicans are having a hell of a time smearing him because he never claims to have any credibility in the first place.

All the Daily Show has to do is ask a few simple questions and dig into past video to reveal the current government and media for the idiots and liars they are. People these days fully believe that they can say anything because no one will take the time to review the footage and call them on it. Mostly they're right because "The Media" certainly doesn't. That's why The Media is foundering.

Again, the fears of the media belies their mediocrity. Stewart doesn't *claim* credibility, he *domonstrates* it.

And he's funny. Not crazy funny, but funny enough.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Presidential Criticism & Patriotism

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."

"Roosevelt in the Kansas City Star", 149
May 7, 1918

Bill Moyers: DeLay, Abramoff, and The Public Trust

Huffington Post

Bill Moyers Tue Feb 28, 8:48 PM ET

Back in the first Gilded Age, Boies Penrose was a United States senator from Pennsylvania who had been put and kept in office by the railroad tycoons and oil barons. He assured the moguls: "I believe in the division of labor. You send us to Congress; we pass laws under which you make money... and out of your profits you further contribute to our campaign funds to send us back again to pass more laws to enable you to make more money."

Gilded Ages - then and now - have one thing in common: Audacious and shameless people for whom the very idea of the public trust is a cynical joke.

A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that 70% of Americans believe lobbyists bribing members of Congress is the way things work. Findings like these underscore the fact that ordinary people believe their bonds with democracy are not only stretched but sundered.

You see the breach clearly with
Tom DeLay. As he became the king of campaign fundraising, the Associated Press writes, "He began to live a lifestyle his constituents back in Sugar Land would have a hard time ever imagining." Big corporations provided private jets to take him to places of luxury most Americans have never seen - places with "dazzling views, warm golden sunsets, golf, goose-down comforters, marble bathrooms and balconies overlooking the ocean." The AP reports that various organizations - campaign committees, political action committees, even a children's charity established by DeLay - paid over $1 million on hotels, restaurants, golf resorts and corporate jets in DeLay's behalf.

DeLay was a man on the move and on the take. But he needed help to sustain the cash flow. He found it in a fellow right wing ideologue named Jack Abramoff. Abramoff personifies the Republican money machine of which DeLay with the blessing of the House leadership was the major domo.
Just last month Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials, a spectacular fall for a man whose rise to power began 25 years ago with his election as Chairman of the College Republicans. Despite its innocuous name, the organization became a political attack machine for the Far Right and a launching pad for younger conservatives on the make. "Our job," Abramoff, then 22 years old, wrote after his first visit to the Reagan White House, "is to remove liberals from power permanently [from] student newspaper and radio stations, student governments, and academia." Karl Rove had once held the same job as chairman. So did Grover Norquist, who ran Abramoff's campaign. A youthful $200-a-month intern named Ralph Reed was at their side. These were the rising young stars of the conservative movement who came to town to lead a revolution and stayed to run a racket.

Abramoff made his name, so to speak, representing Indian tribes with gambling interests. As his partner he hired a DeLay crony named Michael Scanlon. Together they would bilk half a dozen Indian tribes who hired them to protect their tribal gambling interests from competition. Abramoff and Scanlon came up with one scheme they called "Gimme Five": Abramoff would refer tribes to Scanlon for grassroots public relations work, and Scanlon would then kick back about 50% to Abramoff, all without the tribes' knowledge. Before it was over the tribes had paid them $82 million dollars, much of it going directly into Abramoff's and Scanlon's pockets.

Some of the money went to so-called charities set up by Abramoff and DeLay that filtered money for lavish trips for members of Congress and their staff, as well as salaries for Congressional family members and DeLay's pet projects. And some of the money found its way to the righteous folks of the Christian Right.

It gets worse.

Some of Abramoff's money from lobbying went to start a non-profit organization called the U.S. Family Network. Nice name, yes? An uplifting all-American name, like so many others that fly the conservative banner in Washington. But the organization did no discernable grassroots organizing and its money came from business groups with no demonstrated interest in the "moral fitness" agenda that was the network's professed aim.

Let's call it what it was: a scam - one more cog in the money-laundering machine controlled by DeLay and Abramoff. A former top assistant founded the organization. DeLay's wife also got a sizeable salary.

Twenty five years ago Grover Norquist had said that "What Republicans need is 50 Jack Abramoffs in Washington. Then this will be a different town."

Well, they got what they needed, and the arc of the conservative takeover of government has now been completed.

Here we come to the heart of darkness.

One of Abramoff's first big lobbying clients was the Northern Marianas Islands in the Pacific. After World War II the Marianas became a trusteeship of the
United Nations, administered by the U.S. Government under the stewardship of the Interior Department. We should all remember that thousands of Marines died there, fighting for our way of life and our freedoms. Now, the main island, Saipan, has become known as America's biggest sweatshop.

In 1998 a government report found workers there living in substandard conditions, suffering severe malnutrition and health problems and subjected to unprovoked acts of violence.

When these scandalous conditions began to attract attention, the sweatshop moguls fought all efforts at reform. Knowing that Jack Abramoff was close to Tom DeLay, they hired him to lobby for the islands. Conservative members of Congress lined up as Abramoff's team arranged for them to visit the islands on carefully guided junkets. They flew first-class, dined at posh restaurants, slept in comfort at the beachfront hotel, and returned to write and speak of the islands as "a true free market success story" and "a laboratory of liberty."

Abramoff took Tom DeLay and his wife there, too. DeLay practically swooned. He said the Marianas "represented what is best about America." He called them "my Galapagos" - "a perfect petri dish of capitalism."

For his services to the Marianas Jack Abramoff was paid nearly $10 million dollars. One of the sweatshop moguls with whom Abramoff was particularly close contributed half a million dollars to - you guessed it - Tom DeLay's U. S. Family Network.

To this day, workers on the Marianas are still denied the federal minimum wage while working long hours for subsistence income in their little "petri dish of capitalism" - "America at its best."

There are no victimless crimes in politics. The cost of corruption is passed on to you. When the government of the United States falls under the thumb of the powerful and privileged, regular folks get squashed.

Washington would have you believe this is just "a lobbying scandal." They would have you think that if they pass a few nominal reforms, put a little more distance between the politician and the lobbyist, you will think everything is okay and they can go back to business as usual.

They're trying it now. Just look at Congressman John Boehner, elected to replace Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader. Today he speaks the language of reform, but ten years ago Boehner was handing out checks from the tobacco executives on the floor of the House. He has thought nothing of hopping on corporate jets or cruising Caribbean during winter breaks with high-powered lobbyists.

Moreover, the man Boehner beat to succeed DeLay - Congressman Roy Blunt - has been elected to DeLay's first job as Majority Whip despite being deeply compromised by millions upon millions of dollars raised from the same interests that bought off DeLay.

And what now of DeLay? He's under indictment for money laundering in Texas, but the other day the party bosses in Congress gave him a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and - are you ready for this? - they put him on the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department which is investigating the Abramoff scandal, including Abramoff's connections to DeLay.

Business as usual. The usual rot. The power of arrogance.

I have painted a bleak picture of democracy. I believe it is a true picture. But it is not a hopeless picture. Something can be done about it. Organized people have always had to take on organized money. If they had not, blacks would still be three-fifths of a person, women wouldn't have the vote, workers couldn't organize, and children would still be working in the mines. Our democracy today is more real and more inclusive than existed in the days of the Founders because time and again, the people have organized themselves to insist that America become "a more perfect union."

It is time to fight again. These people in Washington have no right to be doing what they are doing. It's not their government, it's your government. They work for you. They're public employees - and if they let us down and sell us out, they should be fired. That goes for the lowliest bureaucrat in town to the senior leaders of Congress on up to the President of the United States.

National Evolution

Many in politics seem to be persuing conflicting goals.

For instance, many would like to enjoy the lower prices that are a product of "offshoring" but rail against the "socialist" programs of Europe. Many use Europe as a subject for derision for its low employment, socialized medicine and "lazy" lifestyle.

Yet in many ways, nations evolve in a pattern. At one time a young, whipper-snapper nation stole sensitive textile manufacturing technologies from Europe and undermined Europe's dominance of textiles. This brought the benefits of lower prices and much-needed income to a growing nation.

Now it's America's turn. We've long admitted defeat in low-cost textile manufacturing and are currently giving away manufacturing and technology to developing nations. In this coming decade we can fully expect to see other technologies -- such as medicine and research -- quickly moving to developing countries as it becomes "too expensive" to do here. In many ways this pattern is as inevitable as the tide and perhaps we would be just as successful in fighting it.

Europe has long ago given up these standards to America. Now it seems that it's America's turn.

Perhaps Europe isn't failing so much as simply evolving ahead of us.

Perhaps we should begin to accept that major changes are in order for an American society with no development or production base. Perhaps the Europe we know now is a result of moving to a "service economy".

We might start considering now how an America with no production or research leadership can carry the rest of its society. Learn from the Europe that has gone before us.. or start fighting the tide now.