Feb 22, 2009

February 1, 2009: America's Bleak and Dangerous Outlook


L.F. Hamp

A very recent nationwide poll indicates fully 80 per cent of Americans will not buy an automobile manfuactured by a company in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, contrary claims of Mutt Romney, Arnold Swarzenegger, Richard Shelby, Lindsey Graham, Sarah Failin, and a now much reduced host of angry Republican governors and lawmakers notwithstanding. These japing, jaded stooges of Wall Street money, Big Oil, AIG, and the Banking (Finance) industry appear more than willing to spread our taxpayer money amongst long-time friends of the party, while destroying the future for millions of auto and related industry employees.

I detest these auto industry execs as much as the next guy. They learned nothing from the crises of '73-74, and '79-80. They did what they had to do to keep up appearances while necessary but relapsed into gas-guzzling conspicuous consumpiton (pleasing the hell out of the oil industry) as soon as public concern and interest waned. Of course all big business is very much aware of the nation's short attention span. They rip for a while, get caught, do a little penance, percieve a lack of scrutiny, rip again.

You'd think we'd learn lessons permanently, but it never happens. As unequivocal evidence, I offer Vietnam and Iraq II; Teapot Dome, Watergate, Iran/Contra, and a continuing, deepening current economic slide reminiscent the aftermath of another Republican free market orgy held in the l920's. Then, auto executives have the brass and gall to show up for hearings in D.C. In seperate private jet aircraft. AIG execs, facing congress, hat-in-hand, held (at least two) sales meetings in posh resorts even while begging sustenance at the public trough. (Fi you see a stinking scandal, you needn't look far to find Republicans.)

I can't pretend to know what Congress will do, bit this I'm sure of—destruction of the American (and Canadian) auto industry will mark a long first stride on ur decline from world super-power to world whipping-boy. And when the industry's laboring millions find themselves on the street, they're going to be very, very angry—maybe even angry enough to start a....(fill in the blank). (It goes without saying the public brought much of this on themselves carrying far too much high interest credit card debt and driving gass-guzzling Hummers, to 'keep up with the Joneses', and allowing themselves to be suckered into mortgages on monster homes they knew they couldn't afford.)

Their predicament and anger will be nothing to the general population's when our many enemies get into harness to knock us down and drag us out to the trash. Their numbers are large, and inhabit almost every continent. There won't be a River Rouge plant to build airplanes or cobat vehicles or tanks. Our shipping industry is already gone with the wind. In a week unfriendly nations could dry-up our oil storage facilities. Most of the American manfucturers who converted to making small arms during WWII (Pistols, Garand rifles, 'Tommy' guns, etc.) are long since gone, as are the skilled workers necessary for the endeavor.

One big concern (seldom mentioned) making strategists uncomfortable is that we may be trading one dependency (oil from unfriendly states and areas like Russia, the mid-East, and South America) for another—pinning our hopes on lithium-ion batteries requiring materials now available from Siberia (Russia), China, and central Africa, particularly the bloody Congo. Ninety (90) per cent of our research on electrically powered transport is being done on lithium-ion batteries.

Another seldom mentioned concern is the ability of the democracies to control sea lanes. The (newly oil-rich) Russians are again expanding their presence at sea. Though collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in the beaching of most of their fleet (including nuclear powered subs complete with reactors) on the shores of the Baltic Sea (turning those waters into a festering cesspool), they've never reliquished their dream, first inspired by Peter the Great 300 years ago, of easy, year around access to the world's big waters.

Meanwhile, quietly, pretty efficiently, and very rapidly, India has developed a navy which includes large modern aircraft carriers, cruisers, frigates, submarines, aircraft and missile-arms. This could conceivably require our entire navy to maintain operations in Eastern waters. India may be a democracy in form, but few Indians have much love for Western democracies and with ample reason.

Ergo China, although far less democratic and open China is now emerging as a military and naval power to contend with.

In short our enemies, and potential enemies, are many, varied and occupy every continent but our own and Austrailia, and we almost certainly have many 'sleepers' here at home.

To face these threats, at home and abroad, here's what President Obama inherits from the failed Bush Administration. A fairly good chance of nuclear terrorism. An intelligence network still more involved with turf wars than protecting the nation. A poorly protected chemical industry. Little progress in seaport security. Little protection against biological terrorism and little done to improve such protection. Little cooperation to date developoing anti-terrorism protection in the world community.

Recent analysis of America's situation leads those studying our problems to believe we're going to be a much diminished entity by 2025, losing power relative to China, Russia, India—perhaps unable to hold our own in global give and take. There's little evidence the nation has the strength of character (a la the 'greatest generation') to persevere in the coming grind.

Face it folks, we haven't won a war since 1945 (the 100 hours war in the Gulf notwithstanding), and those in which we have engaged have been classic case studies of repeated blunders, wasted resources, mis-management, pathetic planning, just plain miserable acquisition of intelligence, and poor interpretation of the intelligence we do acquire. Few troublmakers really respect or fear our military/economic power or honor our claim to world leadership in any moral sense.

Winston Churchill, facing a similar, dangerous situation as Britian alone faced the Nazi juggernaut 20 miles across the English Channel, spoke words America would do well to consider: “This,” Churchill said on the BBC airwaves, “is only the beginning of the reckoning; the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year until, by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in olden time.”

January 18, 2009: Two Mistakes and a Short Tale


L.F. Hamp

I'd hardly finished writing, printing and distributing my last missal when a friend stopped by to file two complaints. First, he pointed-up the fact I'd misled people about the “Great South Sea Bubble” scandal in Britian, writing it had ocurred in the early 19th century. He no sooner spoke than I recognized my error. The scandal of 1814 was referred to by some as, “another South Sea Bubble,” and involved speculation in every branch of British government and business, but particularly corruption in the Royal Navy. (More about that story below.)

The original “South Sea Bubble” scandal occurred 94 years earlier, in 1720, and involved manipulation of stocks and bonds which originated atfounding of the South Sea Company in 1711. The Company was granted exclusive trading rights in South America and the Pacific Ocean islands. As 1719 came to a close, the Company proposed to take over the entire British national war debt from the French Revolution and the ensuing war against Bonaparte. Their plan was to have investors receiving annuities (most investors received annual payments) exchange annual pay-outs for stock in the company. A rather small amount of stock would be issued at a very high price and the annuities extinguished.

The company's stock took off much like our mortgage market in recent years, and in less than a year had ballooned to ten times the original asking price. The whole nation immediately went “bonkers” for this and similar schemes. Then, early in 1720, the public suddenly lost confidence and panicked. South Sea Company shares dropped nearly a thousand points from its high-water mark, falling below the original asking price, and took Bank of England stock down with it. The rest of the story is much what our parents and grandparents got during those long years 1929-1940, and what we've been seeing for the past few years and, particularly, in this year.

A special committee of the House of Commons found ample evidence company officers were a brotherhood of thieves. Many officers of government had taken huge gifts of cash and/or goods to smooth the corporate pathway. Among them were the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the equivalent in the United States to the Secretary of the Treasury), the Postmaster-General, at least two commissioners of the national Treasury, and a (large) handful of the nation's most prestigious families. Many company officers were releived of their estates. The company, too important to the natinal economy to be allowed to die (sound familiar?) survived into the next century.

The other complaint was about my mocking of John McCain as looking (in real life) like the cartoon character “Mr. Bill” of SNL fame, and particularly about him waving his damanged arm about as though trying to execute a Roman military salute. Now, look at the facts. Since McCain returned from his stay at the Hanoi Hilton, through years of service in elective office, he'd always done his best to keep the injured wing close to his body, usually with a pen, or a rolled-up sheaf of paper in his right hand to discourage “hand-shakers”. He never did anything to draw attention to his wounded limb.

During his pathetically inept run for the presidency, however, he began waving the thing around in the air at every opportunity, trying to call attention to the wounds he suffered, the imprisonment he endured, at Obama's expense (since Obama never served in the military). If Obama's (largish) ears are fair game, so is the warrior's wounded wing. No apology offered.

Now for the short tale. The scandal of 1814 cost Britian the services at sea of one of her greatest maritime warriors, Thomas, Lord Cochrane. (The 'Lord' was a courtesy title due the eldest son of a bankrupt Scots earldom.) Cochrane had proven a veritable Paul Jones or Horatio Nelson as a young officer commanding small ships. He once took on the large Spanish Frigate “El Gumo” with the tiny brig “HMS Speedy”, defeated her in battle at sea, then took her back to England as a prize. He later made a fortune as commander of the frigate “HMS Pallas”, and in the previously captured French-built frigate “HMS Imperiuse”.

Cochrane was a restless, troublesome subordinate in a service best known for very touchy, stodgy and conservative Admirals. He made many enemies, and serving as member of the House of Commons, castigated them freely and often. Political enemies (many senior naval officers and friends in parliament) trumped-up charges of corruption against him related to a stock scandal during what became known to many as, “another South Sea Bubble,” in 1814. He was falsely and maliciously convicted, briefly imprisoned, stripped of rank and seniority in the Royal Navy, and expelled from Parliament.

In 1817 Cochrane was hired to command the navy of Chile, which he successfully directed until the new nation and Peru were freed by Spain. He then took command of Brazil's navy, leading it to victory over Portugal, resulting in Brazilian independence. He later commanded the Greek navy during their successful war for independence from Turkey.

Lord Cochrane was a pioneer innovator. He was the first Royal Navy commander to recommend use of steam-powered warships, and of the screw-propeller. At one point he recommended use of disabling (poison) gas in sea warfare though his superiors declined to pursue the plan. All in all, Cochrane enjoyed a gratifying career, and helped free Chile, Peru land Brazil from the grip of Spain and Porutugal. It's pleasant to report Queen Victoria restored him to rank and seniority in her Royal Navy, and he died Admiral of the Fleet Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald (Scotland), and a member of the House of Lords.

January 21, 2009: Tale of Two Cities, Legacy Of The South-Side Hit Men, Full-Throated Anthem.



Chicago has been for decades and remains the most segregated city in the United States. It has been made so not only because of decades of racial discrimination but also by the division of the city along class lines. In fact after the Haymarket Riots of the late nineteenth century the city's upper classes, fearing a future Jacobin uprising, arranged for the United States military to position the Great Lakes Naval Base between the affluent north side and the teeming masses of Lithuanians, Croats, Serbians, black, Latino's and others who labored in the stockyards and the meat-packing houses. It is a classic Dickensian “Tale of Two Cities”, the affluent north and the working class south.

Chicago, as baseball historians will tell you, was early the national capitol of our national passtime. Early in the last decade not only did the league offices of the newly formed American League headquarter itself in Chicago, but the two major league teams briefly dominated each of their leagues. The “hitless wonders” on the South side famously defeated the north-side Cubs on the 1906 World Series. But sport and industry was the only thing the north side had in common with the much despised “south-siders”. That they had these things in common does not mean that they shared the same experience. North siders ran the industries and the accounting houses, South siders manned the machinery and became, famously, the “hog butchers of the world”. The same was true of the beloved national passtime as it related to each community. On the north side, where until recently baseball was famously played only during daylight, the Cubs draw from an upper middle class, professional business clientel. One can, even today, watch a Cubs game on WGN on any given summer afternoon and find very few blacks, latinos or other minorities in what is a surprisingly homogenous white uppper-middle class crowd. Through thick and thin, for over a century now, these loyal suburbanites have, as the nation is currently with the Wall Street bailout, been rewarding incompetence and mediocrity as the Cubs now enter their second century of futility.

It has been otherwise on the South Side. There the Chicago White Sox, rocked to the bone by the “Black Sox Scandal” of 1919, and by drawing from a much poorer part of Chicago has been the home of not only weekly fireworks displays, alien space landings, a “disco demolition” and other promotional “gimmics” to fill the parks Comiskey, but old Comiskey Park also hosted the old Negro League All-Star Games, prize fights and, famously, the Beatles. It is a bit ironic, and offends the sensibilities that even during those years where the White Sox win League and World Championships the yearly attendance regularly falls short of the Cubs, regardless of what the Cubs put on the field.

This dynamic has produced some interesting results. Fireworks and concerts come to mind, but also mid-game promotions are used to draw crowds. Sportscaster Harry Carray, when broadcasting for the White Sox introduced his famous “Take Me out To the Ball Game” saranade during the seventh-inning stretch. Likewise organist Nancy Faust introduced in the late 1970's a staple of her own.

It might have been during the hey-day of the “South-Side Hit Men”, Zisk, Baines, Spencer, et.al, who set a league record for home runs, lighting up the “Monster” in center field. The “Monster” was that exploding scoreboard introduced to Comiskey by Bill Veeck in 1960. With it's upper deck entirely enclosing the field, the reverberations from the exploding fireworks could not only be heard but felt through the entire ball yard. Moreover if the wind was blowing off the lake, the debris from the fireworks display would rain down on the opposing pitcher, as the crowd celebrated. During one such occasion as the Sox hitter was rounding the bases, and the opposing team's manager was walking slowly out to the mound to retrieve his battered pitcher, Nancy struck up the chorus from the old Steam hit, a chorus that has become an anthem for home teams and underdogs everywhere.

“na na na na, na na na na
hey hey-ey, goodbye”

I can vividly remember Jack Morris, ace of the Detroit Tiger pitching staff during a game at old Comiskey. It was during the fourth of July weekend 1984, with Detroit and Chicago facing off again for the first time since Morris had no-hit the Sox at Comiskey Park in early April. It had been cold then, and the Sox' bats were frozen. Morris walked off the field, no-hitter in hand, and the Tigers went on to win 35 of their first 40 or so games on their way to a World Championship. But it was now July, it was hot and humid, and the Sox bats had come alive. In the previous game, catcher Carleton Fisk had cleared the roof in left field, a feat accomplished only a dozen or so times during the 80 year history of the yard. This night the Sox would send two balls into Armour park, shots that cleared the roof in left field. First Greg “the Bull” Luzinski, would send one over the roof into the night, then Ron Kittle would repeat the feat. As the scoreboard exploded and the debris was raining down, Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson made the long slow walk out to the mound to take his star pitcher out of the game. Giving the ball to Sparky, Jack started his long trek to the dugout. Foust, as had by now become customary, led the raucus crowd in yet another rendition of

“na na na na, na na na na
hey hey-ey goodbye”.

Jack Morris, looking up in disgust, gave the crowd the finger.

Ken Burns has made much of the psychic connection between sport generally, and baseball specifically, to American culture. We don't remember that until the 1930's we had no national anthem. That the “Star-Spangled Banner” is our national anthem is that it became popular nationally because it was used at the beginning of each baseball game, and the practice—incidentally, began at Old Comiskey Park, Chicago.

Likewise, but with differing results, the famous cat-call that has become the “na na na, hey-ey, goodbye” refrain also began at Old Comiskey Park, Chicago, although by now it has made it's way into nearly all sports venues. I bring this up because what gathered on the Washington Mall yesterday was a cross-section of Americana, a reflection of the country itself, and this, it became apparent, included some South-Siders.

As a life-long Chicago White Sox Fan, I take particular pleasure in seeing photos of the President with a White Sox ball cap perched upon his head. I also took particular pleasure in the crowd singing that signature refrain as the image of George W. Bush was broadcast on the Jumbotrons on the National Mall. As Michelle Obama was being introduced the public adress system was drowned out by the crowd who, seeing the image of 'Ol Two-Cows up on the screen began the catcall of Sox fans everywhere:

“na-na-na-na
na-na-na-na
hey-hey-ey goodbye”

Later, as Marine One, carrying now the former President from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base for his last trip aboard Air Force One to Texas circled one last time the White House and the Capitol Mall, the crowd once again raised it's voice in the full-throated cat-call:

“na-na-na-na
na-na-na-na
hey-hey-ey goodbye”

Joe Scarborough, on his “Morning Joe” program on MSNBC said this morning that what the crowd did constituted a “classless” and “despicable” act. I disagree. It was a delicious moment, one for the ages, to be savored as fine wine. The crowd could, after all, have stormed the Bastille and brought out the guillotine. It chose levity instead.

And so departed the worst President in the last century, perhaps the worst ever. What remains is for us to pick up the pieces.

Jan 31, 2009

January 20, 2009 : I Too Sing America, A Day of Celebration, The Reflecting Pool


I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes.
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America. ---Langston Hughes (1)

“We are the change we've been waiting for”, he has intoned. No one is going to come down and rescue us, we will have to do it—as we have always done it—ourselves.

Today in a speech that chided the outgoing administration by promising to return to the ideals that have driven the American experiment; to work for a more perfect union; and to return to the community of nations, President Obama spoke solemnly of the challenges ahead and forcefully of about the promise of the future. “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” he said. “Those ideals still light the world and we will not give them up for expedience sake”.

It is a day of celebration. The country, indeed the world, gathered almost as one to celebrate both the elevation of our first African-American President and the departure of what is convincingly the worst administration in United States history with the possible exception of James Buchanan.

It has been a long time coming. For eight long years, during what will be seen in future times as a veritable “dark age” of American History, the country has reeled from scandal to scandal beginning with the outright theft of Presidential power –a political coup de tat--through Enron, breaking into the Social Security lock box, 9/11, the Iraq war, no bid contracts to Haliburton and other contractors, the use of mercenaries in both our military and intellegence, the failure to secure our ports and borders, the gutting of our economy by exporting jobs and capital, ad nauseum. Then, came hurricane Katrina. Nothing on this scale of incompetence, venality and greed has ever before been witnessed by the American People. A sense of powerlessness and alienation grew among the people and, as Karl Rove and other Rescumlican operatives openly spoke of a permanent Republican majority, a sense of hopelessness fell upon the land.

Then a young man rose to speak at the 2004 Democratic convention. Telling us in no uncertain terms that there is no “Red America, there is no Blue America, there is a United States of America” he proceeded to light up not only the partisan crowd in the hall but a fire that spread across the nation. Since then, and certainly since Katrina, the nation has been impatienly awaiting a promise of hope. In early 2007 he stood on the steps of the old State House in Springfield Illinois, across the street from Lincoln's old law office and at the doors of the very legislative chamber where Lincoln delivered the famous “House Divided” speech declaring an end of the food fights; an end of the politics of division.

“Could we dare hope?” Americans asked themselves in a hushed and nearly unspoked voice. “YES WE CAN” responded the young Jedi. And, beginning in the snows of Iowa, now over a year ago, Americans began to register their voices of protest and promise. Protest over existing conditions and the promise of a better tomorrow. Today we took a giant stride toward tomorrow.

Beginning very early this morning, well before sunrise, the crowd began gathering on the Mall in Washington. Well before mid morning the area was packed with over a million souls, the largest assembly of the American people in the history of our national capitol. It was a time of celebration, of joy, of hope. It was as if America itself had assembled before its elected leadership and beheld in the reflecting pool the image of Barack Obama.

Footnotes:

1. http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/i-too/

January 19, 2009: The Sun Also Rises, Everywhere Around The World, Dancing In The Streets


“callin' out around the world
are you ready for a brand new beat?....

this is an invitation
across the nation
a chance for the folks to meet
there'll be laughin and singin' and music swinging
and dancin' in the streets

They're dancin' in Chicago
Down in New Orleans
Up in New York City...” Martha and the Vandellas “Dancin' in the Streets”(1)

The long national nightmare is nearly over. For nearly 40 years we have wandered in the darkness, a great solar eclipse which had blotted out the light of reason, wisdom, and justice. For forty years we have been groping with only the artificial light of the candle to lead our way. The end of conservatism is at hand and with it the wars on science, ethics, and sound public policies. Tomorrow we brace ourselves for the arrival of the new morning sun.


Indeed the entire planet is in open celebration. Beginning last night with the concerts on the mall, the whole world took a long sigh of relief and, almost as one put down for a few moments the burdens of life, and tuned in to the great American celebration. As we speak huge jumbotrons are not only placed on the Washington Mall in the District of Columbia but in sports arenas, college campuses, and other public places all around the world as all of humanity tunes in to witness the swearing in of Barack Hussein Obama as the next President of the United States. Yes, come tomorrow there will be dancing in the streets as America and the world greets the new President and gives old dubya the bum's rush.

It is difficult at this distance to determine what is the greater cause for celebration:the arrival of bright new leadership with all the promise that it implies; or the departure of what is unarguably the most venal, incompetent, and corrupt administration in United States' history. In the end, I suppose, it doesn't matter. What matters is that we are today celebrating the last day of the maladministration of George W. “'Ol Two-Cows” Bush. Let us hope and pray that we do not see the likes of him again in our otherwise distinguished national endeavor.

As the sun rises tomorrow morning on the Washington Mall, let us take a deep
breath of clean air, and with a smile on our face and a warmth in our hearts, let us
drink a toast to our new President. Then let's go out and join the world as we go
dancing in the streets.

Footnotes:

http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/thebigchill/dancinginthestreet.htm

Jan 17, 2009

January 17, 2009: Peace Train, Come Join the Living, Come Take Me Home Again


“Now I've been crying lately, thinking about the world as it is
why must we go on hating, why can't we live in bliss

'cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
oh peace train take this country, come take me home again”(1)

----Cat Stevens, “Peace Train” 1968

As the clouds and winds gather in what is becoming a 'perfect storm', the nation reels as it tries to find it's bearings. The Commerce Department released numbers showing that the Holiday season was the worst for American Business since the dark days of Richard Nixon. Consumer spending dropped 2.7% in December and the economy shed another 530,000 jobs. The value of GM stock has dropped to it's lowest level since before I was born wiping out a generation of wealth. What is left of domestic manufacturers is breaking under the strain. Yesterday the Bank of America posted a quarterly loss of 2.3 billion and was saved from imminent collapse, albeit momentarily, by the federal TARP or bail-out money. Circuit City has announced that it is closing all if its over 500 stores and is going out of business, forcing an additional 34,000 people into the streets. Unemployment in Michigan, even by ridiculously conservative federal measurement, now stands at over 10 %; the real numbers are probably half again as high. New claims for unemployment are now inundating the system, so great is the crush that the computer systems in several states, South Carolina among them, have crashed. With the nation mired in two endless wars and, as the American and, increasingly, the world economic order teeters on the verge of collapse, the nation turns it's worried eyes to the incoming administration.

“Get your bags together, go bring your good friends too
'Cause it's getting nearer, it soon will be with you

Now come and join the living, its not so far from you
and its getting nearer, it soon will all be true” (1)

Out on the edge of darkness there rides a peace train. As I write it is T-minus 71 hours and 54 minutes till Barack Obama takes the oath of office and swears to faithfully execute the laws and to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
As I speak he is, as Lincoln before him, aboard a train—in this instance the 2009 Inaugural Train-- winding his way through Pennsylvania toward the Nation's Capitol. Rivers of blood, years of darkness have been the measure of our time. Out of the darkness comes a bright new morning.

“Now I've been happy lately, thinking about the good things to come
and I believe it could be, something good has begun

Oh I've been smiling lately, dreaming about the world as one
and I believe it could be, some day its going to come

'Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
oh peace train save this country, come take me home again.” (1)

Footnotes:

1. http://www.lyricsfreak.com/c/cat+stevens/peace+train_20028199.html

Jan 11, 2009

January 9, 2008: Plantation Politics, The State of Bagojevich, Bastard Feudalism


Former Black Panther leader turned Congressman Bobby Rush said this week that the United States Senate stands as the last bastion of plantation politics in America. He was referring to the spectacle of Roland Burris standing in the rain after not being allowed to enter the Senate chamber as the newly appointed junior Senator from Illinois. Burris had been appointed by the scandal-ridden Governor Rod Bagojevich after the Illinois Governor was arrested and charged with, among other things, withholding state aid from children's hospitals as hostage to campaign contributions, attempting to get the Chicago Tribune to fire reporters in exchange for state aid to help refurbish Wrigley Field so the cash-strapped corporation could sell the Cubs and, the final straw, attempting to sell the seat vacated by the President-elect for campaign contributions, future employment and/or cash. In the heat of the crisis the ever resourceful Bagojevich (pronounced bag-oiy-ah-vich) outwitted his own party by appointing the faultless Burris to the position. Rowand Burris a former four-term state attorney general readily accepted the appointment capping off a pioneering political career as the state's first black to be elected to state-wide office.

This put the Democratic party in a fix and, as usual, the Democrats on the hill did their level best to live up to their worst instincts, quickly forming the usual circular firing squad. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nevada) quickly announced that no one appointed by the besmirched Bagojevich would be acceptable to the Democratic caucus. In the meantime the Illinois Secretary of State announced that his signature on the documents was a mere formality and the Illinois Supreme Court ruled the appointment legal.

Burris, meantime, was left quite literally standing outside the Capitol Building under an umbrella in the cold rain.

The press, meanwhile, was having a field day with talking heads belittling the appointment referring to Burris as the Senator from Bagojevich or the the junior Senator from the State of Corruption. All of this could have been avoided had the Illinois Legislature acted in early December as it did this week and vote 114-1 for impeachment or had the Lieutenant Governor merely announced that he would, upon assuming office, also make Burris the new Senator from Illinois. But Illinois Democrats aren't, it seems, that smart, and neither are the ones on the Hill. By week's end, with the Illinois Supreme Court ruling in Burris' favor and some growing support from the likes of Senator Diane Fienstien of California, the Burris nomination appears more solid with each passing day. The odds are now that he will be the next Senator from Illinois but the Democrats, in the best tradition of the old Southern Planters that dominated the party and the republic for far too long, will let him into the chambers through the back door—figuratively, if not literally through the servant's quarters. So much for the post-racial progressivism of the Democratic Party in this the first year of the Obama era.

It was, on the whole a disgusting spectacle made all the more troubling by the appointment of Joe Biden's Senate aide to fill his seat, keeping it warm, it has been reported, for Biden's son when he returns from duty in Iraq. This, together with reports that Senator Ken Salazar's brother will be appointed to his seat when the Senator moves into the Obama Cabinet, Ditto for one of the Udall Brothers who likewise is assuming a position in the new administration, and the report that Caroline Kennedy is high on the list to replace Hillary as New York's junior Senator. If not Kennedy than former Governor Mario Cuomo's son is the rumored alternative. One gets the distinct impression that politics in America, and more troubling the modern Democratic Party, has begun to embrace a form of Bastard Feudalism. Political office a product not of achievement or vision but of blood lines. Not to be outdone and as if to demonstrate the complete absurdity of this proposition, Pappy Bush was shown this week speaking wistfully of a Jeb Bush presidency. Here I take issue with my good friend Larry Hamp. Although I have no quarrel with Caroline Kennedy, and she certainly would be no worse than the rest, we must resist the temptation to not draw things out to their illogical conclusions: for political office to be, in effect, a personal inheritance is anathema to a republic. One need look no further than the Bush's for instruction as to just how bad it can be.

January 1, 2009: A Crumbling Economic House, Murphy's Lawlessness, Nuclear Powers Eye-To-Eye



By Larry Hamp

Bernie Madoff's huge 'Ponzi” rip-off goes a far piece toward proving the case against deregulation of the economy....any and every economic sector and aspect. What regulations and regulators there were and are have failed us miserably—across the board. Many credible sources warned the feds of Madoff's criminal activity, but were pooh-poohed or ignored; incriminating documents very likely shredded and burned in one of the GOP's many furnaces.

Don't look for 'near-zero' percent federal interest rates to impress the population. Credit-card companies are using the economic doldrums to double and treble interest rates on customers—even some with perfect credit records. Chrysler Corp. is selling Jeep products “half-off”. Few speak or write of it, but the Japanese have kept government interest rates just a hair over zero for nearly ten years, to no avail.

The slippery-slope principle is in charge—at least for the moment. ( I remember writing of this economy's shallowness/brittleness at least a half-dozen times through the last five years).

Congress erred in trusting Bush and the Treasury Department first to bamboozle then stampede them into granting singular control over 350 Billion dollars—no strings attached—with only a vague promise to relieve home mortgage problems giving the mess downward impetus. The whole amount, ever last nickel, is gone. All went to big finance, big insurance, big stock-jobbers (manipulators, if you're not familiar with the term) (1) . No mortgages savaged to date I've heard, seen, or read about.

Indeed, it's getting pretty tough for the less fortunate among us, now. It's apt to get worse, and rather sooner than later. I wish Bush would resign early, let the new man get a jump on our deteriorating economic situation; the world's deteriorating situation. I expect obstructionist Republicans will drive more nails into the party's coffin through coming months.

A tired-out John McCain looks like an outlandishly over-sized, worn-out 'Kewpie-doll', with crudely animated (Mr. Bill-style) lips and jaw line, and one arm making spasmodic attempts to execute a Roman military salute. He still sounds and acts ignorant (as ever) of matters economic. The Republican idiots and their thieving big business friends forgot how Murphy's Law pertains to every human endeavor.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, India and Pakistan are watching one another over open gun-sights. Both are massing troops and armaments in areas near their common borders. They hate each other.

The Brits, withdrawing from 'empire' left a hell of a mess in the region. Out of spite, one suspects. If so, they can be pleased with the results though I doubt that they are since one disputant or the other could easily touch-off nuclear conflict, possibly of a world-wide nature.

Pakistan is a crazy state,claiming to be a democracy, but ever leaning toward the military 'strong-man' style of leadership. Every rogue state with nuclear weapons, or a developing nuclear program has bought the necessary technology from Pakistan. Among them are North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and...., possibly (probably) others. They (their military at least) are far to cozy with bin Laden's al-Quaeda for democracies to be comfortable, or complacent.

India is a monstrous can of worms. In response to centuries-old conflict with China they've developed a very large, modern military including land, sea and air forces. Like China, India boasts a huge heterogeneous population of over a billion souls. Across Inia large masses speak one or more of 23 major languages, another 20 tongues are common enough to require recognition, and another 50 are spoken by yet smaller segments of the population.

Among India's many practicing religious groups are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddists, in addition to at leas hundred-million animists. Despite abolition of the 'caste' system in 1955, many hundreds of millions are still saddled by the appellation (and actuality of) “untouchables”.

The border between India and Pakistan could very easily, considering India's hatred of Pakistan and fear of China, become a flash-point leading to international nuclear conflagration, and it could all happen very quickly—as quick as some hot-tempered air-head can push a button. My guess is Pakistan will be first to shoot the nuke.

Now, back home, again. I'd like to see Caroline Kennedy in Hillary Clinton's senate seat. The Kennedy's are a public-service oriented family and have done fine work for America (though, like most families, with flaws). Edward, after many false starts, has become a terrific Senator. The country lost a (potentially) great President with Bobby's assassination, and JFK's civil rights program (pushed through by LBJ) opened the door for Obama's age-shaking, epoch-making victory. Joseph, Jack and Booby all died serving America—I'd bet on Caroline Kennedy's willingness, as well. It's a family in which 'the right stuff' comes naturally.

Footnotes:
1. Muck-raking journalists coined the term 'stock-jobber' during the great South
Sea Bubble scandal in the late 18th, early 19th century Britain. High ranking civil officials failed in their regulatory duty as many greedy fingers rummaged the pie. Everyone who was anyone, believed fortunes were just a ship's docking away.
It was a good thing the Brits had a war going vs. Bonaparte or their economy would surely gone to hell in a hand basket. The poor suffered deeply as their formerly wealthy employers went belly-up.

December 31, 2008: Happy New Year, Face World of Woe, Good Night and Good Luck


By Larry Hamp

Happy New Year, President-Elect Obama. Enjoy those sunny beaches in Hawaii. Your best vacations, for a long time, will be one-nighters crammed with work, worry and woe at Camp David. Only three of our great leaders—Washington, Lincoln, FDR—have taken office (in Washington's case, military command and huge political leadership responsibilities) with the country in such dire straights...

Every national institution—government, finance, military, business/industry, indeed the very states comprising the Union—is either broken, bankrupt, scandalized, incompetent, greedy, dishonest and/or hindered by zealots, ignorance, mismanagement or thieves. A lot of thieves.

With one war winding down, another will be winding up—the one against the plotters and abettors who attacked us in September 2001. By summer 2003 they were all nearly in the bag (but in difficult territory) when the 'bushwits' decided to double our trouble, invading Iraq and draining resources from Afghanistan.

Now the place is just another dysfunctional medieval state run by a dysfunctional medieval government, a situation not likely to be changed by us, since the powerful invaders Alexander the Great, the British Empire (twice), the Soviets (nearly 10 years and with at least 100,000 soldiers committing great slaughter) have all failed in similar attempts. Our “ally” Pakistan has proven a hindrance rather than helpful. When nuclear war, or attack, occurs look for Pakistan to be completely in the mix.

Our sights in Afghanistan should be set on crushing the Taliban and Al-Quaeda, not on nation-building. The locals just aren't interested in change—at all. Those there who've demonstrated desire for change live very dangerous and, generally, very short lives. I can make a good case that the same off-target thinking is what's ruin't every Bush effort in Iraq.

Sectarian violence—bombings, shootings—occur in Baghdad and outlying provinces every day. “The surge was successful”, McCain, Bush and Petraeus claimed. They lied, and knew they were lying. People were absolutely correct dismissing McCain's claims of success. Trouble-makers there dove deep into Baghdad's rabbit-warren slums, and waited for things to cool off.

Just as I write this, the Defense Department has announced the deployment of 3,000 soldiers of the 82nd Airborne, and 100 choppers, to Afghanistan in Spring, '09. So...how much brighter is Bob Gates than Donald Du...er, Rumsfeld? This is about as stupid as Rumsfeld's attacks on Fallujah, Iraq—each discussed publicly for weeks before being launched the insurgents always left town, but left behind their nothing-to-live-for minions dreaming of death and 79 virgins, after killing Americans.

There's little doubt, hearing this news, bin Ladin and Associates will bend every effort to load-up on shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (SAM's) and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG's). After all, American supplied Stinger missiles, in the '80's, drove Russian forces first to distraction, then to defeat. Don't be surprised if the Russians supply the missiles. Revenge, after all, really is sweet.

So, it's a singlular moment for a strong, level-headed 'leader'--a big, dangerous situation fraught with opportunity. We're fortunate to have a thinking man to lead us into this shambles (it's just beginning, you know), and, hopefully, out of it intact.

Right off the bat he's going t have to consider (and somehow) do something about disgraceful horrors in large parts of Africa—in Somalia (a throw-back to the Barbary pirate states), and particularly the Congo, where warlord Laurent Nkunda openly laughs at and belittles attempts by disorganized, futile neighboring states to reign him in. Since we have our hands full, militarily speaking, he's going to have to play a leadership role inspiring others to put a stop to Africa's self-immolation.

Gazing into the eastern fog, the 'new' (You're still the same) Russian state is creating problems for the west among old Soviet-bloc states. Newly oil rich, with huge natural gas and diamond deposits, Russia is again pushing her way into the world's sea lanes, using, or threatening to use, armed force to keep close neighbors away from NATO, and from any cooperaton with the West.

Domestically, former KGB operatives partnered with the Russian 'Mob' are tightening control through the expansion of treason laws. Journalists there, and political activists of every stripe, are routinely hassled, arrested, beaten, imprisoned, or just disappear into a still active gulag. It's a politically docile and immature country, and still the world's drunkest nation.

An even bigger problem on the presidential menu is what to do about some 30 (if we admit the existence of a few we don't know about) intelligence agencies, administrations, directorates, commissions, and bureaus. Top level officers of these outfits have been tainted to one degree or another by association with torture, kidnapping, illegal imprisonment, rendition, tribunals, and other Bush administration defiance of the American Constitution as well as the laws of other nation-states, friendly or otherwise.

When I first realized, some 40 years ago, the CIA was hugely involved in world-wide drug distribution (what better way to raise black money for black ops—just ask Oliver North), I told a group of friends, “some day, some President, is going to have to surround CIA and NSA headquarters with soldiers, and physically destroy them”. I'm more convinced than ever both agencies, and some others, are a bigger threat to Americans than to our foes. Their collective track records suck. Did they give Bush misinformation on Iraq...or disinformation? Were they just fuddled? Who knows, for sure? Not even them.

Among various intelligence agencies prior to 9/11/01, plenty of hints, clues and indication of what was afoot lay unshared in file cabinets, on computer discs, in the minds of agents and operatives. Some, no doubt, made its way to 'file 13'. None of it was shared, compared, considered in toto; for practical purposes all remained 'in va-cuo'.

“Well, good luck Mr. President/Commander-in-Chief in waiting”, you're gonna need it. We're gonna need it. And, Oh by the way, happy New Year.

December 28, 2008: Cries of the Damned, Tragical History Tour, If the Shoe Fits

“You have a frightening smile Dianna”, said Tom Ballard to his friend Dianna Trent in the BBC sitcom “Waiting for God”. “When you open your mouth it is like openning the gates of Hell; Whenever you laugh one can smell the burning sulphur and hear the cries of the damned”.

So one could describe the forced grin of 'Ol Two-Cows as he makes his not so unapologetic tour in a last-ditch effort to burnish the record of his miserable presidency. One should also note the look of complete bewilderment and non-comprehension in his eyes as he casts about finding reasons to justify his misbegotten tenure in office. He simply doesn't get it. Poor George simply doesn't understand that it is not generally seen as an act of compassion, intelligence, or strength to lie a nation into war, gut the national economy, and preside over the drowning of a major city. Instead he looks at us as if we don't get it!

“you're out of touch my baby
my poor unfaithful baby.... The Rolling Stones “Out of Touch”

As the clock winds down on both a watershed political year and the bastard presidency of George W. ('Ol Two-Cows) Bush, America—indeed the world—is staring into an abyss the depths of which can only be exceeded by Dubya's malignant soul, now deeply buried somewhere in Dante's seventh level of hell. It was reported this month that in November the nation had shed over half a million jobs, one in ten homeowners have either lost their homes or are about to face foreclosure. The nation's inflation rate is inching up, the decline of gasoline prices from nearly five dollars to a dollar and a half a gallon notwithstanding. Wall street continues to reel from losses and scandal as Bernie Madoff (yes Bernie Made Off) has been arrested for reportedly bilking shareholders (principally targeting Jewish non-profits) out of half a billion dollars in what amounted to a giant ponzi scheme. Meanwhile, true to form, the administration cannot account for what has become of the 350 billion dollars that was thrown at the Wall Street crowd that created this mess in the first place. What has been certain is that much of the money went to stockholders and the investor class in dividends, much of it went for mergers and acquisitions, almost none of it has gone to freeing up the credit markets upon which this country now depends. 'Ol Two-Cows has now spent, in dollars adjusted for inflation, more money than it took to build the interstate highway system, fight the Civil War, World War I and the Depression combined and has not created a single job. In fact we are now hemorrhaging jobs faster than at anytime since the demobilization of the military after the Second World War. Our auto industry, once the pride of the country is teetering on the verge of collapse with sales down nearly 40% and Chrysler and General Motors temporarily closing thirty plants and warning that they must have some kind of financial relief or face imminent bankruptcy.

“Two-Cows” predictable response has been to rush to the aid of the investor class and leave the working class twisting in the wind. This week he was on television saying that he hadn't made up his mind about signing the auto bailout package but then quickly adding that he was worried that to fail to act would not reassure the markets. It's always the markets with George, never the people. Always the investor, never the worker. Whenever George opens his mouth you can hear the cries of the damned. And damned if he ain't.

It has been reported that deep inside the bowels of the White House the Goppites have formed a “Bush Legacy Project”. This is an effort to organize subalterns around the talking points of the day so as to get a head start on refurbishing the Bush image and in so doing burnish the Bush legacy. He knows that he will emerge with the lowest approval rating since such records have been kept. Bush will have surpassed even “Tricky” Dick Nixon in sounding the depths of political purgatory. Unlike Nixon, who could pawn himself off as something of a foreign policy guru, “Two-Cows” has no such assets upon which to bank a political comeback. Nevertheless we have Condy Rice stumping the talk-shows praising Bush for his far-sighted foreign policy, and First Lady Laura Bush making similar appearances to downplay the tragedy in New Orleans saying that it wasn't as bad as was reported. There are two salient points regarding this latest “Tragical History Tour”, the first is that the rescumlicans are once again going about the business of smearing the historical record, the second is that once again Bush and Cheney are having someone else—this time the womenfolk-- do the heavy lifting.

So far the American public is not buying it. Neither, it seems, is the world. Getting little traction—except on Fox Noise—the Idiot-in-Chief” momentarily fled the country showing up in Baghdad to commune with the troops and his Iraqi puppets. There for all the world to see, Bush and Malaki were holding a joint news conference to tell the world about all the splendid progress being made when an Iraqi reporter shouting at the “Great Decider” managed to throw both his shoes at the president, barely missing his target before being quickly ushered off to a local dungeon. In such esteem is this president held that domestic reaction within the United States to such treatment of our head of state ranged from mild consternation to bemused laughter. While the miscreant in Baghdad may do some serious jail time, George “Dubya” 'Ol Two-Cows Bush is being laughed off the stage. Meanwhile there were demonstrations in which thousands of Iraqi's gathered in support of the protester and the manufacturer of his shoes reportedly has had to hire at least another one hundred workers to meet the skyrocketing demand. As Jimmy Durante would say, “everybody wants to get in on the act “ or, in the words of Curley Howard, 'if the foo shits wear it”.