Thursday, November 20, 2008


In 1990 the Dow Jones began flirting with 3,000 for the first time ever. The internet and the computer revolution led the market to heights of euphoria, and the Dow Jones passed 10,000 for the first time in 1999 - a stunning rise from less than 3,000 to over 10,000 in less than ten years.

It took over a hundred years for the Dow to go from 100 to 10,000. It went from less than 3,000 to over 10,000 in less than ten years (1990-1999). This is an unsustainable rise in stock prices, just like during the first depression - and since then we added more than 4,000 more points, reaching the peak in October of last year.

The Great Depression saw similar markets before the '29 crash. It took nearly 22 years for the Dow Jones Industrial Average to rise from 100 to 200. But it took barely over a year for the average to vault the next hundred points. The industrial average hit precisely 300 on the last day of 1928. It had soared 48% that year, making 1928 one of the best in history. The only better have been 1915 and 1933 - until now, of course, when the market tripled from 1990 to 1999, and then added another 4,000 or so.

The market added more value from 2000 to 2008 than the worth of the entire market in 1990. Thus the stock market has proclaimed that from 1990 to 2008 (before this crash), the worth of American companies has gone from an index of less than 3,000 to over 14,000 - that is to say, it doubled, then doubled again, and then some more. This did not make sense in the 1920s, and it does not make any sense now - but unfortunately, the reasons for the rise in the '20s - the adoption of electricity for mass production - undoubtably had more impact on society than the adoption of computers and the internet in our time, but our market went crazier than it did back then. The first doubling of the Dow Jones took 22 years, and the last time the market doubled in less than a decade led directly to the Great Depression. This time we tripled the market in less than a decade and kept going. While market crashes are not the only reason for a depression, there is a real possibility that this Depression may be worse than last time, just as WWII was worse than WWI despite how much humanity thought it had learned from the World War, now called the First World War.

The Dow Jones website asks:

Why the huge increase in the 1920s? ''I call it the final fling upward,'' says Richard Stillman, a former professor and author who has written a book on the DJIA. ''This was a great era of euphoria. Prosperity was an explosion: Automobiles were in mass production, radios were in mass production,'' and telephone and aerospace industries were taking off.

And I would add that the rise of easy credit led Americans to add more debt in the 1920s than ever before, resulting in a large part of the American market being rooted in loans that were unlikely to ever be paid. Sound familiar? No-money down for cars, washing machines, telephones, you name it. And Americans bought and bought, and then the bottom fell out. It was the 20th-century version of the "sub-prime mortgage mess." Except we have more debt than Americans did then (in % terms and per capita) and that debt is not for things we could do without back then - phones, cars, etc. - but for our HOMES. In other words, this time the data looks worse.

Dow Jones' website adds

Professor Stillman thinks that Herbert Hoover's victory over New York Governor Al Smith in the 1928 presidential race also helped the Dow industrials surmount 300. ''The political climate continued to be highly favorable to business,'' he says. Mr. Hoover favored ''rugged individualism,'' and the less interference in business, the better.

This is strikingly similar to "compassionate conservatism" and the withdrawal of government regulations since 1990 and especially since the beginning of the Bush era.

Dow Jones provides that "after hitting 300, the Dow industrials would soar further in 1929, peaking at 381.17 in September. But in the crash of 1929 and the Depression, they would plummet. It would take a quarter century -- until 1954 -- before they would surmount the 300 barrier again." We peaked at 14,093 on October 12, 2007. Today the market closed at 7,552. We don't know when the market will again reach the peak of 14,093, but it is not unreasonable, even though we hate to think it, that it will take another quarter century to return to that valuation. That would be the year 2033.

Most people know that "the Dow Jones Industrial Average did miserably during the Depression of the 1930s. It began the decade at 248.48, down from a high of 381.17 before the crash of 1929. By July 1932, the depths of the Depression, the industrial average was crawling at 41.22. It ended 1939 at 150.24." If we apply the same percentage drops, the peak of 14,093 would reach all the way down to 1,524 if it dropped as much as the market did in what we may begin calling the First Great Depression. That is, 41.22 to 381.17 is the same percentage drop as 1,524 to 14,093.

If the market merely should have doubled from 1990, then it would be at a mere 6,000 today - perhaps not an undervaluation. In terms of market history, doubling the market from 3,000 to 6,000 in 18 years is a good performance. We moved from 3,000 to over 14,000 in that time. In short, it does not make sense.

Those investing now at 7,552 hoping to game the market when it reaches "bottom" should reconsider and perhaps protect their own bottom instead. We don't know where the bottom is, and by that I mean WE WON'T KNOW WHERE THE BOTTOM IS UNTIL AFTER WE GET THERE. If this Second Great Depression is only half as bad on stock market prices as the last one, then the bottom will be 3,048. The market is more than twice as high today. WE DON'T KNOW.

We keep telling ourselves "it won't be as bad as back then" but few economists or reporters can explain WHY. I don't see why it should be easier this time, and as discussed above, many factors look worse.

From the Dow Jones website:

What many investors don't know is that the 1930s were also the most volatile decade on record for stock prices. Investors, their nerves rubbed raw by the Depression, were prone to fits of euphoria and despair. Thus, the industrial average plunged 52.7% in 1931 and 32.8% in 1937, but it rose 66.7% in 1933 and 38.5% in 1935. Daily volatility was also intense. Strange as it may seem, seven of the 10 biggest up days in history, on a percentage basis, occurred during the 1930s.

The volatility we have seen in the past few months is the most volatile in the history of the market. We have seen day after day of triple-digit gains or losses - usually losses - and we are now almost halfway down from the peak. The idea that the bottom is near is comforting, but it is not supported by the evidence.

This kind of turmoil led to the rise of fascism and world-wide conflict last time. This kind of turmoil (albeit on a lesser scale and not world-wide) led to the fall of the Soviet Union. What will this kind of world-wide turmoil lead to now? Add in global warming and corresponding famine/massive migration, the end of the age of oil, our staggering national debt (which we should not even worry about balancing at this point, not right now), and the fact that many nations now possess nuclear weapons, and we are in for quite a ride.

I want to believe those pundits and economists who say that this time won't be as bad as the 1930s, that this is a "bad recession, possibly worse than the one in 1981-1982." I want to believe them. But I saw this coming long before they spoke out about it, and they have been wrong, consistently wrong, and they give no reasons for their belief that this time it won't be as bad, that we are not due another Depression on the scale of the 1930s. They believe that, but they believed the "fundamentals of our economy are sound" long after I saw the fundamentals were clearly indicating otherwise.

I want to believe those who tell me it won't be as bad, but at this point I don't. Buckle up, it will be rougher ride than any of us have ever taken in our lifetimes, and most people don't have any idea how bad it is going to get.

[I took much of my information on the 1920s and 1930s from the Dow Jones website found at]

Friday, November 07, 2008


I wept with joy on Tuesday night. I expected President-elect Obama to win, yet I was surprised at how much emotion I felt when, finally, the minute the polls closed here in California I heard Jim Lehrer call the election. Expecting it all night, I was prepared to shout my joy aloud.

Instead, and to my surprise, as the words "Obama wins" scrolled across the screen, I sat down and found myself out of breath, dizzy, overcome with emotion that I did not expect to feel. "It really just happened" I kept saying to myself. My wife was popping champagne, but I had to take a moment first.

Thanks to Phil Carter for making it possible for me to play a small part in this defining moment in history. And thanks to him for continuing to serve the Republic with his work on the most impressive and professional campaign in a generation, possibly in history. But the joy I felt was not partisan. It was more than that. It was not about red versus blue, or even defeating the movement that gave us George W. Bush, the most despised president in our history. It was not even about the majesty of a nation founded upon slavery electing a black man as our leader in a time of crisis. It was all of those things, yes. But it was even more than that. It was about, as the campaign slogan said, HOPE.

I have been reading about FDR and the Great Depression recently, from William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream. As an employment attorney I knew the market crash was coming for some time. Many of my peers knew it too. We began to use the phrase "over the cliff" last year when referring to the economy. We knew the house of cards was coming down.

We face the very real possibility of the Second Great Depression. There is sure to be much more pain to come. Even with the hyperbole of the 24-hour cable networks, the true extent of the economic disaster is not yet fully understood by most. It will be worse than most people fear.

But with smart, honest, dedicated and idealistic people working to make America better, we will come through this challenge stronger, and with more freedom, than before. It will not be easy. All of us will sacrifice. But I am confident in the United States of America. I have hope.

Nobody knows what the future will bring. We face economic catastrophe, xenophobia, isolationism, famine, global climate change, resultant mass migrations on a scale never seen in human history, and the age-old scourge of war. Not the "war on terror." WAR. War between nation-states. Not because we want it. Not because others want it. Because when resources become scarce and people become afraid and xenophobic, when people are hungry and angry, they tend to fight. It is a flaw in human nature - an evolutionary survival mechanism gone awry in our modern industrialized world. There will be war - hopefully not involving us, but probably it will. World War I appeared to many at the time to have put an end to war. Europeans, people knew, had learned how horrible war was and were determined to avoid such disaster in the future. As the "Lost Generation" came to power they knew better than others how terrible war truly is, and they would not repeat the mistakes of the past. And then came the Great Depression. And then came xenophobia, instability, revolution, nationalism, and eventually the bloodiest conflict in the history of man. And only a generation after the previous bloodiest conflict in the history of man.

Now we face the Second Great Depression, global climate change, the end of the age of oil, and most of all, fear. Fear in third world nations. Fear in modernized, western nations. Hatred of the "other." Changing climate patterns resulting in famines in some areas, bounty in others. And a power vacuum left over by the end of the Cold War that has yet to be filled. And America herself, the "hyper-power," is facing the same scale of economic crisis that led to the demise of the Soviet Union.

But given the tears of joy on November 4th as our system gave voice to a people choosing hope over fear, I expect we will remain true to the ideals of our Revolution. As we did on Tuesday, as we did in 1941, as we did in 1932, and in 1860, and in 1776, the People of the United States will choose the hard right over the easy wrong. We just did so again. We will address the many challenges we face and we will come out stronger. Better. Of course not all of us. In 1860 many of us chose the path of tyranny. But as a People we will choose to reform ourselves and to do what must be done. Democracies don't necessarily make better decisions than other forms of government. Our strength is that we can change without blood in the streets. We can experiment. We can change our minds. We can replace our most powerful leaders simply by choosing to do so. And on Tuesday, the 4th of November, 2008, we did just that. Our Revolution again impressed all of humanity. We changed.

Shortly before the economic crisis became news I decided to re-read Manchester and see what we did right, and what we did wrong, the last time we faced a crisis similar to what we face now. And it was exactly on point. And scary. And yet, with the election of Barack Hussein Obama, comforting. He is not FDR, but he may be in the same league. And he needs to be. And I think he can do it. But if not, we will be ok. Because if he can not be transformative figure that FDR was, if he can not do what FDR did, we will simply get somebody who can. That is the magic of democracy. It is not about any one person. It is about the power of all of us.

If George Washington had fallen in battle, our Revolution would simply have replaced him. The People fought our Revolution, not just General Washington. He had only the power we gave him to do what we were ordering be done. WE can. Not just president-elect Obama. All of us, the American People, can and will do what we need to do. We recognize the greatness in our greatest presidents, but all power comes from the People, and if presidents, or Congress, fail us, we replace them. Our nation has decided on a different path, and we have chosen president-elect Obama to lead us there. And he will lead us there. Or we will get somebody who can. Yes we can.

In 1932 FDR was the president-elect of a bankrupt nation. As he took office the foes of freedom gathered enormous strength and prepared to attack. And we were attacked. The entire world went up in flames and evil appeared to triumph. Democracy was seen as weak and inept - because some democracies were weak and inept. Yet by the time he died in office in 1945 our nation was the richest, most powerful nation in human history - and for the most part we held true to our ideals in the midst of the worst crisis since the threat of the traitorous Confederacy. We came out better than before. We defeated Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan - and the Depression. We had the New Deal rewrite the social contract and improve the lives of the average American. The cost was staggering, in pain and in blood and in money, but we came out better than before. Yes we did.

This current crisis, while certainly the worst in our lifetimes, is not on a par with what FDR faced, nor Lincoln, and certainly not George Washington. The next few years will be terrible in many ways - many of them unforeseen and horrible - but we will come out of this crisis better than before. We will hold true to our ideals. The nation spoke on Tuesday, and our experiment with self-government passed yet another test. There will be more to come, and we shall pass those tests as well - and with flying colors.

With flying colors.

I put out the American flag today. I haven't done that for a while. Too many people attempted to make that flag stand for something I did not believe in - hate, fear, jingoistic nationalism, xenophobia. I became reluctant to fly that flag I love because it appeared to send a message I was not in agreement with.

But today it seemed to stand for only what I always thought it should stand for all along: the Republic, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I am flying that flag today. Long may she wave.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Attorney - Client Privilege ?

In the never ending saga of warrantless wiretaps by the Bush administration, a federal judge has ordered the Justice Department to produce White House memos that provide the legal basis for the Bush administration's post-Sept. 11 warrantless wiretapping program.

What I find amazing, is the claim of attorney - client privilege by the Justice Department as the rationale to withhold release of these memos. Am I wrong in thinking that the clients of the Executive Branch are We, The People? While it was the President who requested a legal opinion, and the Justice Dept who rendered same, the notion that the Justice Dept represents the President to the exclusion of the people is a rather unique twist. Had Bush sought legal advice from in house counsel, perhaps he would have a legitimate case, but when Justice provides this counsel and then seeks to hide it from the people, is that not a conflict of interest of mammoth proportions? In a situation such as this, who then, represents the people? Do I, as a citizen, have the same protection in my communications with a Justice Dept lawyer? I would seriously doubt it.

I guess the approach is to start by claiming "National Security". Then claim "Executive Privilege". Now, "attorney - client privilege". Next, perhaps, we will hear that these memos were exchanged using personal Yahoo e-mail accounts, and are thus private, personal communications, not governmental ones.

In the broadest and most extreme of views, this reeks of a government that has turned upon its people.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Hats off to Brother Carter!

Those of us who met on the old INTEL-Dump and have continued our cyber friendship will appreciate this IHT article. Whatever your politics, we owe a "hats off" to Phil Carter, as whatever level of camaraderie we share, Phil made it possible, and I thank him for introducing me to all of you, as well as many of the "old timers" with whom we no longer have contact.

INTEL-DUMP came into existence because Phil cares. The participants joined in the fray because we cared. Phil used a level of intellectual discourse that generally made the discussion stimulating.

Best to Phil, and best to all of you.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Does this leave you a little ill at ease?

I found this "Challenge Coin" today on the internet. Versions for each branch of service are available.

Are there not limits on what one can use the official seals of government agencies for? Can one use the service seals to promote obviously sectarian religious beliefs?

Is the mission of the US military "to stand against the devil's schemes"? If so, which schemes? To many who read Ephesians as part of their faith, unjust war is a scheme of the devil.

Is that a Crusader? If so, not only Muslims would be offended. Orthodox Christians still remember the sack of Constantinople.

For me, this is much more than a little bit unsettling. It's offensive.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

What does the story of Joe the Plumber tell us?

Last night, while waiting at the port for the bride to return on the ferry from Athens, I grabbed a cappuccino and watched the news at the cafe on Greek TV. A full 5 minutes were devoted to the unfolding story of "Joe the Plumber". The newscaster's comments were certainly unflattering toward Joe, John McCain and US politics in general. My fellow coffee drinkers watched and when the unexpected turn of events were given, laughed heartily at how McCain had failed to get the real story on Joe, his occupation and less than honest representations to Obama.

There is, however, at least to me, a very telling lesson to be learned here. John McCain is running for the highest office in the land. Amongst his many claims for being highly qualified is his military service. If there is anything I learned in the military, it was that you "never come to class without having done your homework". Apparently, John forgot, or never learned this lesson.

But more significant to me, a lover of numbers and the challenge of making sense of them, Joe's comments didn't hunt from the very beginning. First, Obama's $250,000+ income population represents about 2% of the households in the US. Was this guy saying he was going to buy a plumbing firm that would set him above 98% of the households in the country? Quite a stretch. Then I thought about what level of business a plumbing firm would have to do to turn a quarter million in profit. At a 20% profit margin, he'd have to have annual sales of $1.25 million. That's a hell of a lot of plumbing at a very high profit %.

When McCain jumped upon Joe as an example of "middle class workers", that really blew me away. Again, Joe's question pertained to tax rates on the highest 2% of households. I doubt there are many "workers" in that category, and by definition, no middle class households. But, it looked like a great "GOTCHA" moment. Rather than simply say that Obama simply wanted to "spread the wealth", McCain decided to make Joe an icon of how Obama would repress the working class.

The Story of Joe the Plumber, as presented to the world by John McCain, is a fraud. First, the tax proposal being bashed does not apply to the working class. Second, Joe will never make $250,000 by buying his boss's two man plumbing operation. Third, at present, Joe cannot buy the company and operate under current licensing laws in his area.

Anyone who has taken a freshman level course in business should have seen the holes in Joe's original comments. Anyone versed in public policy should have recognized that $250,000 annual income is not representative of the middle class. Anyone who served in the military should have thought about doing some homework before thrusting this incident onto the world stage as a campaign transforming event. John McCain claims expertise in all three of these areas. As cute as it was, it just didn't hunt.

That the campaign, along with it's candidate, chose this path raises some very serious questions about both. But, in this age of sound bites, cute and gotchas, those serious questions will never be as fully addressed as, let's say, where Bill Clinton stuck a cigar.

So, what the story of Joe the Plumber tells us, is that no matter how bad our government and our elected officials perform, we deserve it. We keep electing people like this.



Sunday, October 05, 2008

So, what is this thing called infrastructure?

A recent news item quoted snippets from the two candidates about the economy:

"I will rebuild the middle class and create millions of new jobs by investing in infrastructure and renewable energy," vowed Obama.

McCain pledged to "open markets around the globe for our products, cut taxes and expand domestic production of energy ... I will create jobs and get the economy on the right track."

I find Obama's use of the term infrastructure interesting, not because our infrastructure is not in need of investment, but because it is probably one of the more neglected and misunderstood elements of America.

On the other hand, McCain touts "market expansion" as the cure all. Expanding markets create jobs. You know, like the vast expansion of the mortgage market.

First, one should keep in mind that many significant elements of our infrastructure are not serious long term "GDP multipliers". Rebuilding sorely neglected bridges creates jobs for the construction project's duration. The bridge may be enduring, but the jobs are not. Thus, the cash infusion is finite, and any workers trained and employed in these projects will be looking for new employment at the project's completion. Yet, we need to bite the bullet and tend to this task. To me, the sound approach would be a long term infrastructure building and maintenance program that would establish, at the least, a stable labor pool, and an "industry" with a long term life expectancy. The difficulty is doing this in a tax averse, profit seeking society. We must have "growing markets", and if we are talking about tax funded infrastructure, the end result is higher taxes to "grow the market opportunities", especially if profit making firms have a vested interest in the "market". But many elements of infrastructure are societal needs, not simple capitalist markets.

So, we must avoid the pitfalls of never ending public works projects. Taxes must support necessary infrastructure. Infrastructure vital to the nation's well being. Otherwise, we become like the former Soviet Union, where vast fortunes were spent building unnecessary facilities solely to create jobs - year after year after year. Exquisite amphitheaters for band performances to entertain passing boats along the Volga River waterway, for example. When we cruised up the Volga in 1992, we saw numerous amphitheaters, facing the river, kept neat and clean, but never used. As our Russian friend said, "Build it. Engage a staff to keep it clean. Lots of jobs. Lots of Jobs. But nothing meaningful produced - not even music." Adding to the horrific burden that caused the government to collapse of its own weight.

And all infrastructure is not simply brick and mortar. Consider air transportation. Since the start of airline deregulation, the US has really had no serious air transportation policy. Safety regulations, operating regulations, airport building programs and the air traffic control system, yes. Those four areas are pretty much what represents the infrastructure of the US air transport system, and these are what are addressed in allocating the current resources and planning for the future air transportation needs of the country. Notice I didn't mention airlines. During the blood bath of "Fare Wars" in the early 1990's, Bob Crandall, then CEO of American Airlines, said that airlines were no longer anything other that the purveyors of a commodity - "cheap seats between point A and Point B". Anyone with enough borrowed money could enter "the market" with a couple of aircraft and offer cheap seats, whether or not these seats were necessary, and whether or not the business plan could ever realistically offer a profit. These low price airlines drove the rest of the industry to match their prices, as any cash flow is better than no cash flow.

Now, one might say the the flying public benefited, because they were able to save considerable money in airfares, and many more people got the opportunity to fly. On the other hand, look closely at what this "commodity" approach to airlines has created over the last 18 or so years. Employment in the industry is highly unstable. Real wage levels in the industry have fallen. Route structures are unpredictable. Every major airline (I'm including Southwest) in existence in 1990, except two, has either gone out of business or declared bankruptcy to stay in business. Billions in retirement plans as well as employee and investor saving have evaporated. All but one major airline now ships its "major maintenance" tasks to foreign sites, where quality oversight is questionable. But even if the quality is OK, highly skilled jobs are lost in the US, diminishing the domestic size of this talented labor pool in the long run. And, as we now see, all airlines are having to significantly reduce total capacity to survive, driving fares up and eliminating cities from the route network. And this contraction has hit the domestic market harder than international routes, resulting in fewer US jobs. In short, allowing "market forces" to make airlines commodity suppliers rather than an integral part of the air transportation infrastructure has had enormous long term societal cost.

If you want to jump up and shout, "What about Southwest?", I would respond that Southwest is a "niche" airline that has wisely identified and dominates its niche. It is not part of the US airline "system" in any respect other than using airports and air traffic control. You cannot book travel through Southwest outside its own system. Part of the savings in using Southwest is its use of outlying or secondary airports. If you want to travel from Amarillo, TX (as well as dozens of other cities that Southwest serves) to London, for example, you will have to change airports (at your time and expense) to connect to the transatlantic flight, carrying your baggage with you in the taxi, train or bus. And, if your SW flight is late or canceled, the airline to which you are connecting has no legal obligation to accommodate this problem. Unlike "regular" airlines, a Southwest ticket carries no cash value outside Southwest. I am not saying Southwest isn't great. I am just saying that upon close inspection, it is operating in a system of its own and provides a service separate and different from what we see as the "air transportation system". It does, however do its job well and at benefit to the flying public. But if all airlines were to adopt Southwest's model, there would be no "system" and travel would be truly chaotic.

Placing the airlines into the "infrastructure" of the air transportation system of the US would indeed stabilize the industry, and that could be done to a great measure by establishing a national air transportation policy. Here in Europe, the discounters are restricted to point to point niche markets by requiring them to generally use a secondary airport at one end of each route. Niche markets are recognized and encouraged. What Southwest does to lower costs, European regulators do to preserve infrastructure. And everybody benefits.

But the air transport system is not the only element of infrastructure that has fallen prey to free market forces. Anyone remember ENRON, or the financial "system"?

"Infrastructure" has such a noble ring. And, in the main, US infrastructure in many areas is deteriorating, often to make way for "free market" profits, as well as to gain political capital by lowering taxes. But in the end, failing to recognize, build and maintain essential infrastructure delivers a down stream bill which often far exceeds the tax savings and short term profits initially enjoyed.

Hopefully, Mr Obama knows a bit more about infrastructure than our national track record demonstrates. Should he be the successful candidate, and if he understands even the basics of national infrastructure, we may very well benefit.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Thought provoking piece by John Eisenhower

Today's IHT has this piece by John S.D. Eisenhower, Ike's son.

I offer it without comment, other than it's revelations and opinion are thought provoking.

What do you think?


Monday, September 29, 2008

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

One of the most delightful "finds" we made during our many summers cruising on our boat in Canadian waters was the writings of Canadian author and historian, Pierre Berton. Over time, we ended up purchasing and reading some 30 of his works.

Berton often wrote about what he perceived as a fundamental cultural difference between Canada and its neighbor to the south, a difference which he considered profound. America, he wrote, was born by an act of violence (The Revolution) and in the founding document, The Declaration of Independence, expressed that government existed to preserve certain inalienable rights, chief among which are "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness". In short, Berton posits, a society where the sovereignty of the individual trumps the collective well being.

Canada, on the other hand, came into being some 100 years later by a rational and peaceful act of Parliament (The North America Act of 1867), and in that Act, it is stated that the purpose of the government was to ensure "Peace, Order and Good Government". Berton held that this reflects a society where the collective well being trumps the desires of the individual.

Briefly here, let me address the business of "Trickle Down Economics", also known as "The Horse and Sparrow Paradigm". This view holds that if the privileged are allowed to satisfy their desires for "Life, Liberty and Happiness", the lot of the underprivileged will rise as a byproduct, whether the wealthy want this or not. If we allow the rich to get even richer, the additional money they spend and/or invest will ultimately trickle down to the benefit of everyone. Similarly, overfeeding a horse benefits the sparrow, who will find more undigested oats in the horse's feces than it would if the horse were simply fed an adequate diet. The horse need not care about the well being of the sparrow, and indeed it doesn't. The more gluttonous the horse's behavior, the more the sparrow will benefit every time the horse shits. Greed and gluttony become suitable replacements for good intentions and human caring. Two of the "Seven Deadly Sins" are thereby redeemed and become virtues. In fact, envy, pride, lust and wrath can also be redeemed by this mindset, leaving sloth as the only real "Deadly Sin". And, the lazy deserve to suffer, don't they?

Whether or not Berton is totally accurate in his assessment of the two countries, he does make a very interesting point, and events of the past several years could readily be described as reflecting his characterization of the US. One could readily say that the excesses of the financial markets, mortgage markets and real estate markets ran unchecked because certain individuals did indeed benefit. Not every American, but enough to keep the wheels spinning as they did. During the past 7+ years, more and more Americans lost health care coverage, and more and more Americans fell into poverty. But also during those years, enough Americans acquired enough wealth and "toys" to ensure a majority that was enjoying enough "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" to hungrily encourage the economy and financial institutions to run higher and higher risks.

So, after 7+ years of virtually unregulated activity, the financial institutions of the US have finally screwed the pooch too much and are in desperate straits. And the general reaction? "What, use my tax dollars to bail out those greedy Wall Street pigs? Bail out people who took out mortgages they couldn't afford? They made their beds, now they can sleep in them! " Except it is not the bed that is ill made. It's a major part of the foundation of the house itself. And who will bear the greatest burden of a financial collapse? Not the rich. Not the upper middle class. Those with considerable means may suffer a lifestyle adjustment, but those of little means will find their very lives imperiled. We have devolved into a society where the least among us are dependent upon the fecal oats, and the horses' diets are about to be cut. The problem with the foundation is more rooted in culture than economics. Greed was fully acceptable to many as long as the debt creation machine catered to enough folks.

I find it interesting to see that Paulson's initial proposal was to simply burden us all to feed the horse. While I am sure he "believed" this would result in more fecal oats for the sparrows, the sparrows' well being still remains a byproduct and is totally dependent upon the horses' metabolism being over served. If you think about it, in its totality, it isn't even an efficient model, no less an effective one. At least in terms of the "common good". Resources that could directly address human needs are not available at the outset, but only after being passed through the colons of the rich. And this waste has to be picked through to find the nutrition. But then, it is not the rich that have to pick through this waste, is it?

I do not claim to know what the financial answer to the melt down might be. But I do know that the culture shift necessary for tending to the common good would be a total shock to American society. Sharing some of the oats before they are ingested by the gluttonous horse is totally inconsistent with "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" as we perceive it. The least of us should be thankful that oat rich feces are available for them. And if the horse suddenly has to cut its dietary intake to a simply adequate nutritional level for himself, eliminating the nutritious content of his feces, isn't the horse "sharing the pain"? I'm sure the horse sees it that way. And the sparrows can always go to the emergency room.



Sunday, September 28, 2008

Words worth pondering

Roger Cohen recently wrote about Pakistan in the IHT.

A very notable quote from Pakistani President Zardari: "After he talked of revenge for his wife, Benazir's death, Zardari added this: "I am not a warmonger. I am not interested in physical might which is not the expression of my strength. I have many strengths, and one of them is that I can take pain, not give pain. I don't consider anyone who can give pain brave, I consider anyone who can take pain brave. That is why I consider a woman a stronger gender because she can take much more pain than a man."

Perhaps he should have been an adviser to our interrogation theory pundits!


Friday, September 26, 2008

Feudal Privileges

At the end of the Roman Empire Europe fell into disarray and central government ceased to exist. In its place local nobles - rich people in positions of power - began to control their own fiefdoms, leading to the degradation and inequality of feudal times. Under the feudal system wealth and power were inherited, not earned. Wealth and power had to be protected, but not earned in the first place. And as part of the feudal system, peasants were essentially owned by the nobility. The land belonged to the nobility, and the peasants working that land owed much of what they produced to the rich people that possessed that land. They also owed the rich people a duty of performing a certain amount of labor without compensation. The rich grew richer, the peasantry lived in squalor, everybody worshiped the same Jesus, and that evil system lasted for hundreds of years. Descendants of some of those "noble" families persist today, as seen in the monarchies that live on in Europe still.

Our nation fought a revolution against inherited wealth and privilege, believing in the American Dream that if you worked hard and kept your nose clean, you could prosper and leave your children in a better place than the one you were born into - in short, the "Land of Opportunity."

Today the greatest single indicator of where you end up economically at the end of your life is how much money your parents had the day you were born. There is little upward social mobility, and likewise little downward mobility. If you are born rich you are almost certain to die even richer. Born poor you will die poor, and your children will be poor. Inherited wealth and privilege are in charge again. If you don't earn over $1 Million a year, look forward to outright peasantry.

As part of an attempt to save the very rich from their own gambling addiction, our government is bailing out Wall Street to the tune of $700 Billion dollars. This will not go to hard-pressed homeowners to help them pay mortgages (something that would help the very institutions the money will instead go directly to) but rather it will be simply dumped on Wall Street. If there is junk paper out there, the taxpayer will buy it. If we don't, we are told by the very same people that led us into this staggering mess - AFTER THEY WERE WARNED OF THE CONSEQUENCES - that the system will crash. See, it was not the elimination of New Deal era laws designed precisely to prevent the very same situation we now face that was the cause of this Second Great Depression. Oh no, not that at all. Nope. If the market crashes it will be because we did not agree to shoulder a $700 billion dollar burden in order to help the very rich. If we do not do so then the system will crash and it will be our fault. It will not be the fault of a rabid and unreasonable free-market ideology, what used to be called laissez-faire capitalism (an already thoroughly-discredited notion that the very rich repackaged as "deregulation" and "freeing the markets"). It will be because we decided not to give Wall Street $700 Billion Dollars. And when questioned about whether this will even work, we are told that, honestly, nobody knows what else to do.

But what, really, does this mean?

Here is one way to look at it. There are currently about 350 million Americans. The federal minimum wage is currently $6.55 an hour. And if the bailout is $700 Billion, then each and every American - from the newborn infant to the elderly and everybody in between - is on the hook to Wall Street whiz kids (like Treasury Secretary Paulson just a few years ago) in the amount of $2,295.08. In terms of the number of hours at federal minimum wage, the government is going to order us to donate, free of charge, without compensation, over 350 hours of labor each. That translates into almost nine weeks (8.76 to be precise) of free labor for Wall Street by each of us - young and old alike, able-bodied or not, each one of us is now obligated to perform free labor for Wall Street for nine weeks. This will, somehow, help us by ensuring those that took risks with their money (not ours) and who enjoyed enormous profits and tax breaks as the rich grew richer than ever (not us) will not lose their shirts because we - the peasants, apparently - will donate nine weeks of labor to them so that the can keep their boats and cars and jet planes and servants and, in the case of Senator McCain, an unknown number of luxury homes.

And if we don't agree to that, then somehow our failure to do so will be responsible for the largest man-made and entirely-avoidable economic disaster that has ever befallen any nation in the history of the world. Not looting and corporate cronyism at the highest levels of our government. Not deliberate decisions that went against the face of history in removing safeguards put in place in the 1930s that were designed to - and while in place, DID - prevent exactly what has happened. Oh no. It will be because we didn't agree to pay, each and every one of us, over $2,000 each to Wall Street - and on top of the largest budget deficit the world has ever seen.

And the most aggravating thing of all is, to neutral and impartial observers, this "bailout" will not even work. The markets are going to fail anyway because they are unsound, they are a house of cards. But at least the rich will stay rich as we enter the Second Great Depression. After all, that is what is important to those in power. They just need to lie to us and get us riled up - abortion, terrorism, gay marriage, whatever. And we will then agree to it and despise those who try to save us from our madness because they are "liberal."

The Roman Empire had bread and circuses to distract the masses. We have 24-hour news networks - all owned by the very rich - to do the same.

Or, we could say no. We could fight back. We could vote intelligently. But given our recent history and the "issues" being discussed in this election (lipstick on pigs, Palin's "experience," whether Obama is a Muslim, and Jesus Jesus Jesus (the Savior is apparently now very comfortable with the rich and has decided He cares little for those less fortunate)), we will vote with our "gut."

Hail to the new boss, same as the old boss. And get to work - you have a staggering national debt to pay off and now Wall Street wants to cut out the middlemen and just have your tax dollars go directly to them.

I say we should let the system crash. It will be very, very painful, but it will take less time to fix and we will be able to focus our resources on those most in need of assistance as our house of cards tumbles. We will be able to rebuild on a solid foundation. And the risks of investment will be borne by investors, helping to avoid a repeat farther in history. And here is the kicker - if we decide not to do so, the system will STILL crash of its own weight, but the very rich will escape and remain rich.

I always wondered what it would be like to live through historical times. Now I wish I did not know.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Constitution??? We don't need no stinkin' Constitution!!!

In an excellent piece in today's IHT, the Bush administration is exposed, once again, as having no regard for the Constitution. While we hear over and over again that we need judges who will stick to the Constitution as the Founders intended it, apparently the Executive Branch is under no such restrictions. Vice Emperor Cheney sees his office outside the restrictions of government. GWB regularly and routinely paints himself and the Executive Branch as immune to the law.

And now, to handle our current economic crisis, the Secretary of the Treasury proposes:

"Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency," the original draft of the proposed bill says.

"The Secretary is authorized to take such actions as the Secretary deems necessary to carry out the authorities in this act," the proposed bill read when it was first presented to Congress, "without regard to any other provision of law regarding public contracts."

It goes on to say, "Any funds expended for actions authorized by this Act, including the payment of administrative expenses, shall be deemed appropriated at the time of such expenditure."

Indeed, as Sorkin offers, this is the financial equivalent of the Patriot Act. In fact, in my opinion, it makes the Patriot Act look like small potatoes in terms of subverting the Constitution. This is lunacy!

According to another IHT piece, Senator Chris Dodd had strong words for Paulson this morning:
He called the Treasury proposal "stunning and unprecedented in its scope and lack of detail."

Asserting that the plan would allow Paulson to act with "absolute impunity," Senator Dodd said, "After reading this proposal, I can only conclude that it is not only our economy that is at risk, Mr. Secretary, but our Constitution, as well."

But then, when has this administration really exhibited any concern for the Constitution?

I have to hand it to Paulson, however. Asleep at the switch since he came into office, he now proposes himself as the unitary figure to dole out a staggering sum of taxpayer money, demanding accountability to no one at all. Truly a Bush Republican.

Mercifully, it seems that players on both sides of the aisle have reservations with Paulson's creation of a totally autonomous new branch of government. Hopefully, saner heads will prevail and quickly put a workable solution in place before a total meltdown occurs.

Perhaps GWB & Co's next crisis management step should be to postpone the Nov election indefinitely. It would be in keeping with their track record so far.



Sunday, September 14, 2008

When Government fails to govern

Perhaps it is time for our populace to read the dictionary entry for the word govern, a word which arises from the Latin gubernare; to steer. Implicit in the noun "government" is the action of "governing". And governing involves controlling, guiding, directing and other actions that significantly influence the course of events in the entity being governed - for the positive. We had governors on our aircraft engines, specifically to prevent catastrophic overspeeds. One would expect those who are in the position of governing to act, in advance, to prevent societal overspeeds as well.

Comment by Alan Greenspan in regard to the current financial melt down:

"This is a once-in-a-half-century, probably once-in-a-century type of event," Greenspan said in an interview on ABC. "I think the argument has got to be that there are certain types of institutions which are so fundamental to the functioning of the movement of savings into real investment in an economy that on very rare occasions — and this is one of them — it's desirable to prevent them from liquidating in a sharply disruptive manner."

It's an interesting statement, but it leads me to ask, "If certain types of institutions are so fundamental to the functioning of the movement of savings into real investment in an economy, and these institutions have been subject to federal oversight and regulation, why didn't you oversee or regulate them?"

I have posted before that our current "free market" capitalism is unfettered capitalism only until things go horribly wrong, and then a government (socialist) solution is applied, at taxpayer expense. The bill for the "free lunch" always arrives. It's just delivered at a later day to someone who never got to eat the meal. If our government were to govern, then bail outs would not be so necessary.

My simple summary of the mess is that folks saw that there was money to be made in the mortgage market. But there is a finite number of people who can really afford taking on a mortgage obligation. Thus, the market for soundly issued mortgages was fixed. The lenders were faced with a pie of finite size that they had to fight over. But fixed size markets are not the American way. So the market had to be expanded, and that was done by issuing mortgages to people who did not have any business borrowing such sums of money. Thus, the creation of new mortgage packages that made it appear, by smoke and mirrors at the time of issuance, that the borrower did qualify. Sort of like Army enlistment standards - when you can't find enough people who meet the realistic standard, redefine reality and lower the standard. Within a short period of time, these marketing geniuses had written billions and billions of dollars in mortgages to a hell of a lot of people who had nowhere near the means to successfully meet the long term conditions of these mortgages. And Bob's your uncle. Totally predictable. Lots of short term profit and impressive "economic health" indicators, but a toxic mix with a ticking detonator.

My cynical take is that our GOP friends ( and perhaps most of the country) have no concept of what Infrastructure is, and how it is vital to the sound functioning of the country. Profits are not infrastructure. Expanding markets are not infrastructure. Infra structure holds and supports the organism. When you weaken infrastructure, the organism collapses. Infra structure requires preventative maintenance. Infrastructure needs to be maintained in a manner that supports current and future need for the organism to be healthy. Governing is part of that task.

So, we awake this morning to the collapse of Lehman and Merrill-Lynch. Both as a result of a failure of the government to govern. And yet, there is a cry from a certain segment of the population for even less governing.

And as a P.S. about government failing to deliver, here's a piece from the IHT about us overseas voters getting assistance in casting our ballots this Nov. Note that is is not our government that established this exceptionally helpful program.



Thursday, September 11, 2008

Theater of the Absurd

While riding our Vespas around northern Italy, we were able to pick up snippets of the presidential (and vice) selection process on the TV. No indepth coverage (perhaps mercifully) but enough to witness theater of the absurd unfold before our very eyes.

We arrived home late last night, and in this morning's IHT, found two very appropriate pieces. Reporting from Lake Woebegon, Garrison Keillor hits the nail right on the head (or is it "hits the finger right on the nail"?) when he describes the state of affairs as "Forget the past - it's only history". From the very start of the John and Sarah show, my mind drifted back to the days when Abe Beame ran for mayor of New York City on a platform of cleaning up the fiscal disaster the city was suffering. Bill Buckley, one of his opponents, wisely noted that Beame was, for all intents and purposes, running against his own record, as his was the sitting Comptroller of the city, and had previously served as budget director for several years.

Now, we have a couple of GOP "mavericks" running for office against, make that stridently against, the record and actions of their own party over the past 10 years or so. And thousands of convention supporters cheered them on. Not one seemed to realize that the mess they are screaming to clean up is not only of their own making, but rooted in the very ideals of their party. A good summary of the past seven years of GOP wonderment was also provided in the IHT this AM as well.

And then there is the new approach to "Family Values" we find. Now, a high school junior who becomes pregnant out of wedlock is a national role model because she is "going to keep the baby". Apparently abstinence is unnecessary as long as you decide to keep the child. Wasn't it just a few years ago when a sitting president's extra-marital BJs were condemned for the "horrible example" it set for America's youth? While the sins of the children should not be visited upon the mother, isn't it a bit absurd that this unwed, pregnant child has been elevated to role model super star? Hell, what I wouldn't have done for a role model like that when I was in high school. All those girls who held onto their virginity out of fear of pregnancy would have easily fallen to my charms if they were presented with the stardom of the GOP's current day moral standards.

I wonder who the McCain/Palin pair would be willing to identify as the top 20 GOP Pork Barrel violators? I also wonder if they would be maverick enough to tell their constituents to throw those 20 out of office this Nov? Indeed, while serving as Gov, Palin's Alaska received more pork $$$ per capita from the US than any other state. Virtually all with Palin's support or by her request.

Oh, well, we Americans must be bringing it upon ourselves. We are a new country with no sense of history and a corresponding lack of memory.

But then, even if it's Theater of the Absurd, at least it's theater.


Friday, September 05, 2008

Six little words

Six little words

David Sirota, Creators Syndicate, Inc.

Friday, July 25, 2008

History books teem with six-word phrases, from the comforting ("Nothing to fear but fear itself") to the inspiring ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall") to the embarrassing ("Read my lips, no new taxes"). But the six words, "on the basis of union membership" could be more momentous than any of those. Though hardly Franklin D. Roosevelt's rhetoric, Ronald Reagan's bluster or George H. W. Bush's clumsiness, the clause could solve America's wage crisis.

Of course, when Tom Geoghegan told me this in a Chicago park two weeks ago, I almost snarfed my coffee through my nose. Solving major social problems typically demands more than six words. But as the longtime labor lawyer and author explained his idea to me on a muggy afternoon, it started making sense.

Geoghegan reminded me that data show the more union members in an economy, the better workers' pay. The problem, he said, is that weakened labor laws are allowing companies to bully and fire union-sympathetic workers, thus driving down union membership and wages.

Enter Geoghegan's six words. If the Civil Rights Act was amended to prevent discrimination "on the basis of union membership," it would curtail corporations' anti-labor assault by making the right to join a union an official civil right.

"Hang on," I interrupted. "Joining a union isn't a civil right?"


Under current law, if you are fired for union activity, you can only take your grievance to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) - a byzantine agency deliberately made more Kafkaesque by right-wing appointees and budget cuts. Today, the NLRB takes years to rule on labor law violations, often granting victims only their back pay - a tiny cost of doing business.

Union leaders are now focused on reforming the NLRB - an admirable goal - but Geoghegan's plan implies that workers are harmed by being legally leashed to Washington in the first place. His proposal says rather than being forced to rely on an unreliable bureaucracy for protection, workers should be empowered to defend themselves.

The six words would do just that. Regardless of whether the NLRB is strengthened or further weakened, persecuted workers would be able to haul union-busting thugs into court. There - unlike at the NLRB - plaintiffs can subpoena company records and win costly punitive damages.

Bolstering his argument, Geoghegan told me to consider variations in corporate behavior.

For example, because the Civil Rights Act bars racial discrimination, businesses are motivated to try to prevent bigotry: They want to avoid being sued. This is why no company brags about being racist.

But when it comes to unions, there is no such deterrent. The lack of civil rights protection effectively encourages businesses to punish pro-union employees - and publicize the abuse to intimidate their workforce. By making the six words law, the dynamic would shift. Companies would have a reason - fear of litigation - to respect workers' rights.

When Geoghegan and I finished chatting, I remembered why I believe he is America's most talented writer and thinker on labor issues. His relative anonymity is a tragicomic commentary on the media and the American Left. The Milton Friedmans are celebrated by pundits and cast in bronze by conservative think tanks, while the Geoghegans are dismissed by the chattering class and ignored by a progressive movement that regularly venerates Hollywood celebrities as its heroes.

Perhaps, though, this proposal will change things. In developing a way to shift incentives, Geoghegan has discovered a solution that both unionists and economists can love. It cribs the best from liberals' pro-union sympathies and conservatives' distrust of Big Government, and should make him famous (or at least a Cabinet secretary). After all, anyone who can bring such disparate ideologies and adversaries together is worthy of serious consideration - as is his six-word stroke of genius.

David Sirota is a bestselling author whose newest book, "The Uprising," was released in June. He is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network - both nonpartisan organizations. His blog is at

This article appeared on page B - 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

DNC Video tonight

UPDATE: Here is the link to the video:

and on Youtube:

I am in a video that will be shown at the DNC convention. It is scheduled to air between 7 and 8 pm Denver time. Here is an article that appeared in Variety today about it:

Spielberg DNC film honors veterans

Tom Hanks narrates Cohen/Jinks production

Steven Spielberg has directed a film short on the country's military veterans that is scheduled to unspool tonight at the Democratic National Convention.

Spielberg plans to attend the convention tonight, although he is not expected Thursday night when Barack Obama accepts the nomination at Invesco Field, according to a spokesman for the director.

The film is narrated by Tom Hanks and was produced by James Moll, Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks. The music was composed by John Williams

The Democratic National Convention Committee is drawing on industry talent throughout this week. Davis Guggenheim, director of "An Inconvenient Truth," is reportedly working on an Obama film to be shown Thursday. Ken Burns and Mark Herzog were behind the video tribute to Edward Kennedy on Monday. Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason made the Hillary Clinton film that was shown before her convention appearance on Tuesday.

Spielberg has taken creative roles in conventions past. In 2004, he consulted on a documentary about John Kerry that was directed by James Moll.

Spielberg endorsed Clinton in the primaries, but he and his partners in DreamWorks, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, are expected to host a fund-raiser for Obama, perhaps in September, if the candidate's schedule can be so arranged.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sixty Years Since Truman Desegregated the Military

July 26 is the 60th anniversary of Truman's desegregation executive order. The AP has an interesting Insight piece on the subject.

Our comrade, IRRSoldier has posted often about ROTC abandoning certain demographics. Well, according to the AP piece:

A review of congressional nominations to the military academies shows that black and Hispanic lawmakers often recommend fewer students.

The fewest appointments to the academies came from Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., who forwarded just three names for the classes of 2009-2012. Two other members of Congress _ Massachusetts Democrat Michael Capuano and New York Democrat Jose Serrano_ sent up five names.

According to Pentagon data, the number of lawmakers who failed to nominate at least one candidate to each academy increased from 24 in 2005 to 38 this year. Of the 75 lawmakers overall who did not nominate someone to each academy in all four years, 40 were either black or Hispanic.

It would appear that some members of Congress have no interest in people from their constituencies becoming career military officers. Or, perhaps, the people in their districts do not seek military careers, even for a free education. IMHO, another downside of the AVF.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

But he's not "endorsing" Obama

Woke up to this interesting tidbit.

Seems that the Iraqi prime minister would like to see us out of his hair as soon as possible. Perhaps he feels that our presence only keeps the pot stirred. Further, McCain's "100 years, if necessary" cannot be a pleasant thought.

It will be interesting to see what comes of Obama's visit to Iraq.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

And the beat goes on

In response to a question today as to why he had not stepped up and encouraged Americans to start conserving fuel, Pres Bush stated that the consumer was smart enough to to see the current price of fossil fuel and figure it out for himself. He said that consumers respond to market forces, and there was no need for a president to tell them what to do. That's why he lowered taxes, so that more money would be in the hands of these wise consumers to use as they see fit.

If that's the case, Mr President, then why are trillions of tax dollars going to be spent to rescue the free market mortgage and banking industries from greed, consumer excesses and flat out stupidity? Is it not incumbent upon a "leader" to offer sage counsel on issues effecting the nation at large? Or would suggestions of reigning in markets run amok be bad for business?



Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Not Even Original Thought

This morning's IHT had an interesting piece on the origins of harsh prisoner treatment at Gitmo. Seems that our people can't be given a passing grade for originality on that program. Weren't even creative enough to rewicker the chart used, other than to change the title to remove the reference to the ChiComs.

I must add, they weren't even creative in using the materials. Same names for the techniques, etc.

So tell me all you commie hating, democracy loving folks, how does it feel to know we simply mimicked what we condemned 30 years ago?

Surprised? Hell no. Saddened? Extremely.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

FISA and immunity for telecoms companies

My excellent Congressman responded regarding FISA and immunity for telecoms. I am not sure I agree with his rationale entirely, but he certainly provided a lot of detail and food for thought (below).

He refers to Mr. Bush's program as the "terrorist surveillance program." I think that is a mistake.

This is not about terrorists. Of course we should listen in on terrorists. And if Americans are involved in terrorism (Tim McViegh certainly was), we should listen in on them too. OF COURSE we should. Wiretaps are necessary.

This is about who oversees those wiretaps - the courts, like the People commanded in the Constitution, or just Mr. Bush and those he appoints - not a group known for getting things right on anything in the past, not a group known for putting partisan politics aside, thus not a group we should trust in the future.

I want all terrorists and suspected terrorists bugged, monitored, surveillance on them 24/7, I want their mail opened and read, I want their Internet activity in the hands of the government. I want the same for suspected terrorists. I want us to find them and eliminate them. That is not what this debate is about.

The problem is that Mr. Bush says he can't do that successfully if he has to allow a judge to be involved in that process in any way. Because of "national security." And he won't explain why, he just wants us to trust him. When questions are raised he attacks the questioners and pretends the issue is whether we should listen to terrorists. That is not - never has been - the issue.

Yes, we should listen to terrorists and suspected terrorists. Damn right we should spy on them. I don't hear anybody who says otherwise. But why can't a judge oversee that process like the Founding Fathers commanded? Mr. Bush won't even explain, he just keeps insisting that it is "complicated" and "national security" and "we need to listen in on terrorist phone calls." Well, yes, we do, but why not allow a judge to oversee the warrants like we do for every other kind of dangerous crime? Like the Constitution says? Like the FISA law passed by Congress and signed by President Ford says after they considered those same issues very carefully?

Yes we need to listen in on terrorist phone calls, but why can't we trust our judicial branch instead of trusting only the executive branch? The Constitution says they both have to agree that a warrant is necessary - but wiretaps can start immediately without any warrant, a judge just reviews it later - and there is even a special, secret, top-security clearance court just for that - the FISA Court, with judges that have the highest security clearances around. They even approved 99.99 of all warrants that were asked for in the past (the president won't even ask them). And they are fast - ask for a warrant after you have already started, and you will have a response in hours - and you never, ever, ever have to wait before you listen, you listen first and then ask later - and if the warrant is denied (less than .001 of 1 percent of the time) you aren't in trouble, you just have stop because the very-agreeable top-security clearance court thinks you are way out of line (such as "we have to bug Obama's office - terrorism you know."). The president didn't even ask for warrants - he just ordered the NSA to listen in anyway and screw the Constitution and the rule of law and the People and the Judicial Branch. And this wasn't in the hours and days after 9/11, this went on for years, and even after he pushed through the Patriot Act. He never even asked for a law to allow him to do so even when the Republican majority was giving him anything he wanted including a war in Iraq. He didn't even ask - he just did it, and still won't say why. And then, when it was a problem, he stopped (or says he has) - but if it was so vital to our national security, why? He still refuses to explain. After all, he is the president and there are scary terrorists out there you know.

Why couldn't the president use that special secret court and stay within the law? He refuses to explain - instead, as I said, he twists the discussion so it becomes one about whether we should bug terrorist phones instead of how we do it. He won't trust the FISA court, but he wants us to trust him - and he is breaking the law every time he refuses to get a warrant. Why? He won't say. Is it possible that perhaps he is spying on his political opponents, digging up blackmail info against congressmen, etc. Oh, of course not. He would never stoop so low, right? Right?

Sorry, Mr. Bush - the people didn't trust George Washington with such power (warrantless searches), and I think we had (and have) a little more confidence in his abilities and fidelity to the law than to you. If we didn't trust George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or FDR, given the huge threats they faced, I really don't see that we should confer such authority on you. That you just decided to take it anyway, hoping that by calling it the "terrorist survelliance program" it would silence critics because you could make the debate about scary terrorists and "weak-kneed liberals" rather than getting warrants like the law says, is certainly not a reason for us to trust you - even if you had a good track record of honesty and being right, which you sure as hell don't.

Which leads us to the immunity for telecoms companies that gave the executive branch of the federal government all of your emails and phone calls (yes, you too - ATT, for instance, allowed the NSA to monitor and copy everything on their networks - not just terrorists or suspects, but every email, phone call, text message, everything - yours and mine too. And they still have that data.). The president was willing to trust ATT, and ATT trusted the president - and the courts and the Constitution be damned, the president didn't trust either one.

And now lawsuits against ATT and others are tossed out. I was against that idea. Mr. Schiff voted for it. He explains why below, and I think he may be right. In any case, it was a tough call and he explained why he voted as he did. I am not sure I agree, but I sure will be proud to vote for Congressman Schiff again. I wish there were more dedicated public servants like him in Congress:

Dear Mr. Henderson:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the recent vote on the FISA Amendments Act. I appreciate hearing from you and welcome your feedback.

As you know, the House recently considered H.R. 6304, the "FISA Amendments Act of 2008." This legislation is intended to update the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to ensure that our intelligence agencies can operate effectively, while ensuring that we respect the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.

In December 2005, we learned that the President was engaged in warrantless eavesdropping of Americans, contrary to law. In response, I introduced the "NSA Oversight Act" - legislation that clearly prohibited these actions by reiterating the exclusivity of FISA and our criminal wiretap statutes with regard to domestic electronic surveillance. After the Republican Leadership refused to consider my legislation, I offered an amendment on the House Floor that came within 7 votes of shutting down the President's Terrorist Surveillance Program unless it was brought under court supervision. Shortly after, the President announced that the activities under that program would be ceased and brought under FISA.

Nevertheless, I continued to believe it was necessary for Congress to respond to the President's dangerous assertion of unilateral authority in this area. Therefore, I offered an amendment on the House Floor in 2007 that clearly stated that FISA is the exclusive authority for engaging in domestic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes. My amendment passed by a vote of 245-178, and marked the first time that Congress spoke on this issue. Unfortunately, this language was stripped out by Senate conferees.

As you know, Congress has continued to work to address this issue in order to formally bring all of our intelligence activities within the framework of FISA. Last year, Congress hastily passed the so-called "Protect America Act," legislation that I strongly opposed. Since that time, Congress has considered alternatives in order to restore civil liberties protections in this area. Earlier this year, a measure was proposed that passed overwhelmingly in the Senate. The Senate bill did not include sufficient protections for the civil liberties of Americans, and included provisions that would provide for retroactive immunity to certain telecommunications companies. I could not support this bill.

In order to prevent enactment of the Senate bill - or a reauthorization of the so-called "Protect America Act" - an alternative compromise bill, the "FISA Amendments Act of 2008," was proposed on the House side. While this legislation was imperfect and included items that I would have preferred were removed, the bill also included important civil liberties protections that I have fought for over the last two and half years.

As you know, the final bill included language that provides a summary procedure in the district court to determine whether the telecommunications companies should be immune from civil liability for complying with the surveillance requests of the Bush Administration. I pushed for a different process by which a court could fully hear arguments on the merits of these cases, including any defenses available in current law, while also ensuring that classified information was protected. Under this process, an inspector general would be tasked with representing the privacy rights of the American people, and the court could make an independent determination about whether companies violated the law by cooperating with the government. My proposal was not adopted in the compromise, and regrettably, far weaker language was adopted on this issue.

Although this was not the language I preferred on the immunity issue, the final bill also included key provisions that will protect the civil liberties of Americans. Specifically, the bill finally responds to the President's assertion that he can eavesdrop on Americans without a court order, by clearly stating that FISA and our criminal wiretap statutes are the exclusive authorities governing this area. Without this language, nothing will stop this president or future presidents from claiming the inherent authority to wiretap Americans without a court order. The proposal also provides for important oversight by the FISA court on the front-end, contains new protections against warrantless surveillance of U.S. persons abroad, and includes important safeguards to protect against reverse targeting of Americans. These important provisions made this a compromise I could support on balance, and I joined Speaker Pelosi, Senator Obama , and others in supporting this compromise.

The bill requires a full review by the Inspectors General of our national security agencies and of the President's warrantless wiretapping program to determine what took place in the past and to ensure accountability going forward. I continue to believe that Congress should fully investigate the actions of the Administration in this area. No immunity is provided to any government official who may have violated the law.

As a member of both the House Judiciary Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I intend to carefully monitor our nation's intelligence activities and to closely review the report by the Inspectors General. Since the bill includes an important sunset provision that calls for the expiration of the law in 4 years, Congress will be able to make any additional revisions needed and to ensure that any abuses are addressed.

An on-going job of a Representative in Congress is to help constituents solve problems with federal agencies, access services, and get their questions answered promptly. I also encourage you to subscribe to the Washington Update, my email newsletter which contains information on local events, my work in Washington , and even lets you weigh in on important issues through online polls. Visit me online at to subscribe. Please know that you can always reach me at (626) 304-2727 or via my website if I can ever be of additional assistance.

Thank you again for your thoughts. I hope you will continue to share your views and ideas with me.


Adam B. Schiff

Member of Congress

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Supporting a Declaration of War Should Be The Same As Volunteering to Fight It

The same day I posted my idea for a "token draft" of 10% of the force to ensure all Americans are at war, not just the military, this appeared in the USA Today. No, I did not read it before my post, it was simply a coincidence. I think the history is off - during most of America's history we had an all-volunteer force supplemented by a draft in wartime, not just since 1973 - but the points are valid. Here is the article in full:

All-volunteer Army: An ongoing experiment

By Leonard Wong and Stephen Gerras

In 1973, the military draft ended, and our nation began the experiment of manning an Army exclusively with volunteers.

A decade later, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger proclaimed, "To all the American people, I would say that the experiment is over. We know that an all-volunteer force can succeed, and we know what it takes to make it succeed."

And yet, perhaps today we really don't know all it takes to make the all-volunteer force succeed. Five years of war have turned recruiting for the Army into a continuous struggle. The challenge, however, is not merely recruiting enough soldiers, but "quality" soldiers.

A "quality" soldier is motivated to serve, learns quickly and flourishes in the Spartan conditions of military life. To assess "quality," the Army relies on a high school diploma as an indicator of motivation, higher aptitude test scores as a marker of trainability, and the absence of a criminal record.

Lower standards

Because more recruits lack high school diplomas or require waivers for misconduct, the Army developed plans for programs such as a prep school to attain a GED or more focused training to compensate for lower aptitudes. These recruits have proved very competent.

But the Army is more than enlisted soldiers. There is also the officer corps. Unlike the enlisted force where re-enlistment rates have been high, officer retention continues to be a problem.

The Army's recent incentives, including a $35,000 bonus, have failed to persuade enough captains to stay in uniform, especially officers from top-tier ROTC schools or West Point. These officers, who eventually account for the majority of Army senior leaders, are critical in providing the future direction of the military. These officers are also extremely marketable, even in a tight job market.

What should be done? One option is to mimic the enlistee-recruitment approach. The Army can lower standards to bring in more lieutenants, bypassing the requirement to attend ROTC, West Point or even college. Good training can compensate at the tactical level for the lack of an ROTC or West Point experience in the short term.

Future leadership

As officers progress through their careers, they are called on more for their ability to handle the unknown. But unlike corporations, the Army cannot hire external senior leaders. Bringing in lower-quality lieutenants today will result in lower-quality generals tomorrow.

Another option is a significant drawdown in Iraq, thereby giving our warriors a break from multiple deployments. Besides being a political rather than a military decision, however, this alternative is only a short-term fix that sidesteps the real issue.

The real issue confronting today's Army derives from three aversions held by Americans:

* We are skeptical of a sizable military. "The spirit of this country," Thomas Jefferson noted, "is totally adverse to a large military force."

* While many Americans yearn for some form of national service, few are eager to revisit the inequities of conscription.

* Americans have a low tolerance for long wars.

When the all-volunteer Army was envisioned 35 years ago, few predicted that it would be downsized from a force of 800,000 then to 547,000 today. It was assumed that the all-volunteer force would be supported by a standby draft and that long wars would not be measured in decades, but in years. The result is an Army struggling to maintain quality — especially in its officer corps — in an environment unforeseen by its architects.

Even after we eventually leave Iraq, the Army will still have to attract and retain quality people. Considering the circumstances, it appears this experiment called the all-volunteer Army is not over.

Retired lieutenant colonel Leonard Wong and retired colonel Stephen Gerras are faculty members at the Army War College. Their views are not necessarily those of the Army.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Last Full Measure of Devotion - at a discount rate

As the war in Iraq drags on, I would like to point out something that all Americans should agree with regardless of whether you support the war or, like me, thought it idiocy from the start. That something is this: the burdens of this war have not been equally shared by the American People.

The Army and Marines are at war, the rest of us are not. It is not fair. It is a national disgrace.

We have never before asked, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, of so much from so few. And yes, we owe them so much. But we should never have asked for so few to bear the burden of this war. The Army said it needed more soldiers before we invaded. It still, over five years later, does not have them. We should be ashamed of ourselves. If the "surge is working," imagine if we had enough troops at the start! But here is the problem: regardless of whether the surge is working or not, we are still fighting in Iraq and we are sending the same soldiers over and over and over again. That is despicable.

It is not ok to say "well, they volunteered." The idea of our "all-volunteer military" was never, NEVER, intended to be like that of the French Foreign Legion. They are not a mercenary force and must not become one or we are all in danger. In World War Two we did not use only our pre-war all-volunteer military. We as a nation went to war, not just the Army and Marines.

An "all-volunteer military" is a standing army, in peacetime and for short and quick engagements, not for times of extended war. That has ALWAYS been the case in American history. We have had an "all-volunteer military" before - in fact, for most of our history the Army has been all-volunteer. We only initiated a peace-time draft - for the first time in US history - in 1940, to prepare for World War II. Why? Because it was understood - and always understood - that an all-volunteer military serves in peacetime so that we are prepared for war, but once we are in a war that lasts, that can't be handled quickly, the nation will - and should and must - mobilize. That is what we have done in the past. We did that because it was the right thing to do - whether our wars were just or unjust, our nation went to war as a nation. Agree or disagree, but we were in it together. E Pluribus Unum. The United States. When we don't do that we lose the war - and we lose our soul. And we are losing our national soul.

We have not mobilized. Five years down the line, with the Army and Marines worn out by repeated combat tours, we still have not mobilized. Whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Bush's Iraq policy, we should have mobilized to fight a war that we as a people authorized. We should be angry - and ashamed - of our betrayal of our volunteer military. We have betrayed our troops.

This is not, as some have called it, "Mr. Bush's war." Mr. Bush had to get - and he recieved - Congressional authorization for invading Iraq. OUR NATION DECLARED WAR, NOT MR. BUSH BY HIMSELF. And yet we let the same soldiers return to Iraq again and again and again and again. How disgraceful and shameful.

When the idea of a draft for this war was first raised, pre-invasion, many who "support the troops" were against it because it would harm the professionalism of an all-volunteer military. I disagree. We can keep the professionalism by having a limited - call it a "token" if you will - draft, ensuring that most of the Army remains volunteers, but ensuring that when our nation is at war that we all face the risk that we or our loved ones will face danger and might die. Perhaps a draft of 10% of the force - if the Army has 550,000 soldiers, we draft 55,000 young men and women to serve alongside the volunteers, and the same percentage for the Marines - and we ensure they serve in combat. For each draftee that does not make it through training and join a unit, we draft another. 1 draftee among 10 volunteer soldiers will not harm the professional nature of our all-volunteer military, and it will mean something much more - that our nation feels it is at war instead of just the military being at war. We will be in it together - as we should be when we declare war - not the Army, which does not and should not have the power to order our nation to war. We have that power - and we should face the consequences. Anything less is national cowardice.

And if that is "politically impossible" for this war, what does that say about this war? And what does it say about our nation? If our nation truly must wage war, it must do so. If not, it should not. To say we must wage war but not me or my family, send somebody else, I'm busy is a recipe for the destruction of the republic, a dangerous recipe for military adventurism without domestic political safeguards, and a recipe of absolute betrayal of our troops so many bumper stickers so easily - and falsely - claim to support.

If the nation is not willing to draft soldiers to fight the war, then the nation is not willing to fight the war and the People will have spoken. Agree or disagree as you may, that is the will of the People and that is supposed to be how our nation conducts itself - with the People as sovereign. Those who would not want to even ask the People to do so because they are afraid the People will refuse such a draft are doing two things:

1) betraying the troops they falsely claim to support - by not supporting them, and
2) betraying the cause of democracy they claim this war is all about.

For those who refuse to "enable" this war by a draft because they disagree with it, they are doing two things:

1) betraying the troops they falsely claim to support - by not supporting them, and
2) betraying the cause of democracy they claim their opposition to this war is all about.

Since 9/11 we have acted as a terrorized nation filled with cowards. Tough talk? Shocked by my words? Then imagine this: you are at a party with 1,000 people. There are 300 "bad guys" outside who attack and try to kill guests. 100 party guests who see what is going on rush to defend everybody inside the party, and they are outnumbered and are struggling to hold back the "bad guys." The rest of the 900 guests continue to party. The band plays on, the dances go on, the guests feast on shrimp cocktails, while the initial 100 guests fight to hold back the angry horde of bad guys who want to rush in and attack everybody. The host of the party occasionally takes the stage and says "let's have a round of applause for the volunteers!" and the guests cheer and then go back to partying. When the volunteers are exhausted they stagger back inside to rest - and after catching their breath, they are ordered back to the fight by men in tuxedos munching on shrimp who pat them on the back and say "I support you" and then return to the dance floor rather than help. When some guests criticize the way the fight is being conducted, the host tells them they don't understand the nature of the "bad guys" and the crowd boos the critics, accusing them of not supporting the 100 volunteers. The 100 volunteers return again and again to the fight. The 900 guests never do - they just continue partying while talking about how much they admire the volunteers. Eventually few of them even want to talk about the fight, they mostly ignore it.

Now imagine a similar scenario, except the "bad guys" didn't start it, and the 100 volunteers warned that it would be a disaster and said they needed help - and were ignored. Now imagine 5 years of this. You don't have to do so, it is the war in Iraq.

We as a nation have betrayed our Army. The Army remains loyal to the will of the People, but we as a people have not remained loyal to our Army. We have not supported them. We have instead partied on. Now we don't even talk about the war - it has mostly disappeared from the news.

A friend of mine who was killed last year - a great man, I served with him for years and my wife and his wife went to college together and we introduced them, and they were the only guests at our wedding (we eloped) - has two daughters. He served long before 9/11 and long after. He died from an IED in Iraq. The pain from his death continues - and most of us have no idea of that pain, it is not real for us, the dead are, for most of us, not real people, the soldiers in Iraq are not people we know. Our nation is not at war, only the military. My friend's wife wrote this recently about the death of her husband (I didn't ask her for permission to post this so I have redacted all identifying info):

I remember standing in the Atlanta airport, stranded, telling my crying daughter we would make it home and it was going to be ok, but not knowing where home was or if it was going to be ok. And fitful sleeps, violent dreams, and living off a cup of coffee and a brownie, one of our friends brought by. And reading the last letter, mailed just days before his death, then finding the notes hidden in our Christmas stockings, "Daddy will be home soon, I love you."

[redacted]'s loss is still so hard to fathom. But he loved me enough, to help me find my strength and use it. He loved me enough to show me the way. He loved me enough to make me a home. He loved me enough to show me how to have pride in honor, duty, and country. Our wounds will never heal fully. It is a daily struggle of learning to live with them, and trying to finding the joy in today and remembering the joy of the past.

A joy of the past... One of my favorite stories that makes me smile and laugh was our last motorcycle trip together to Charleston, North Carolina. It was gorgeous, the flowers were blooming the spring weather was perfect, and our new headsets were working great. We could talk helmet to helmet or listen to the radio. As we were headed back, I began one of my many bla, bla, rantings, or so [redacted] must have thought. He unplugged my headset so he wouldn't have to listen! I couldn't believe it, "plug me back in," I tried to scream through the helmet. He motioned back that he couldn't hear me, and I could see the huge grin behind his helmet. "Every husbands' dream," I thought, as I now sat in silent solitude on the back of the bike, "a mute button for the wife." A few miles down the road, I was magically plugged in again, on the condition that my rantings were over, and we had a good laugh.

Well, enough of my rambling, remember the grin, the huge arms and broad shoulders, and all those funny stories. In our hearts he will live forever.

He certainly will live on in my heart. Those fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan are real flesh-and-blood people. They don't want to die. They don't want to be deployed. They love their families. They prefer being home to read bed-time stories to their children over facing danger and filth and tragedy in a foreign land for years at a time. But they do it because they obey the orders of the People - imagine the dedication to democracy it takes to obey such an order. Now imagine it if you have a family and you are facing your fourth tour. Imagine if, like a dear friend of mine, you are facing another tour in Iraq and your son was killed in Anbar province in 2005 because he followed in your footsteps. What have you done to support him? Plaster a bumper sticker on your car? How brave and selfless of you. For those who think he chose to serve in Iraq because he volunteered, my friend did not volunteer to fight in Iraq - he joined the Army in the early 1980s. He served - and continues to serve - to protect and defend the Constitution. He remains loyal to it. He didn't start the war. We did. What are you doing to support him? Don't you think you should do a little to support the Constitution too, since you and the rest of us are the reason for his being in Iraq? Or is it ok to just let him and his family bear the cost for our decisions?

We have betrayed these soldiers. We are dancing at the party and ignoring what we ordered them to do, as if it were their decision to wage war instead of our own. "Oh, I was against the war so it is not my fault." Yes, it is. Our nation declared war and you are part of it. That you let others bear the burden is not ok. And many soldiers were against the invasion too - but they did their duty. It is our duty too. We have shirked it. We have let a mere few bear the burden and that is national cowardice. We refuse to make hard choices - although we made the "easy" decsion to go to war. We started it, we have avoided the consequences, letting the same few face the danger time and again. That is cowardice. There is no other word that fits. It is cowardice.

If our nation thinks the way to wage wars is to send the same men again and again and again and again while the rest of us continue to party, we have become an evil and despicable people. If you disagree and think us better than that - then I ask WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SUPPORT THE TROOPS? Call your congressperson, write to your Senator, and let them know we should have a "token draft" - and you should do this whether you are for or against the war. This isn't about politics, it is about support for our troops. It is about our nation bearing responsibility for our national decisions. It is about self-government. It is about whether democracy should survive in the United States.

And if you do not, all the bumper stickers you paste on your cars are nothing but lies. And you know it.