April 29, 2007

Rethinking No-Bid Contracts

First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'd like to divulge the fact that, until recently, I owned Halliburton stock. I dumped it when the misunderstanding which developed surrounding certain unintended KBR billing overages made me nervous. It's one thing to add extra sand to the concrete, after all Iraq has plenty of sand, but please, no-bid contractors, don't mess with my boys' MREs.

War profiteering has a long noble history in this country, and over the years it has created a lot of millionaires, so when the US marched on Baghdad to get those WMDs, I fought the feeling of being powerless over my own government the only way I knew how: I bought stock in corporations that manufacture weapons or otherwise supply our military.

I reasoned that, since my tax dollars were pouring into these companies I had every right to tap some back out. It's like springtime, when the sap begins to rise in the great sugar maples of North America. That is the time to pound your little metal tube into the xylem. Where is the ethical dilemma in that?

But now it's starting to look like a few bad apples are trying to ruin this war for the rest of us. Critical infrastructure projects built in Iraq by US contractors are "crumbling" even before the "Made in the USA" labels peel off. Could some of our corporate citizens have behaved in an unscrupulous manner? I thought Sarbanes-Oxley was supposed to fix all of that. Perhaps now we can rid ourselves of the onerous accounting burden of this typically liberal-knows-best legislation. It's a pity that Ken Lay isn't alive to see it.

 As for me, I'm about to reinvest the money I made off of Armor Holdings, the little company that cornered the market on up-armoring Humvees,  and I'm starting an export company. [FYI- Humvees are produced by a privately-held company and I couldn't figure out how to buy  their stock.] I'm calling the new venture "Blackbush Trading Company." In 4Q '07 Phase One of the business plan commences, when we lobby Prince Bandar for the exclusive rights to sell Just For Men Gel to the House of Saud. We'll be doing our patriotic best to level out the trade imbalance in viscous black liquids.

April 28, 2007

Good Terrorists

This week in Alabama, the ATF uncovered a paramilitary group with a cache of weapons, but the newspapers hardly mentioned it. The AP wire appears to be the only coverage. Perhaps news organizations are taking their cue from the Justice Department, who's been quick to downplay their own bust, stressing that the "ragtag" group "had no apparent plans to use the weapons."

"They just have a beef with the government, and they stockpile munitions," U.S. Attorney Alice Martin said at a news conference in Fort Payne.

With the same level of prominence given the arrest of the Alabama Free Militia, the AP's follow-up gives the group's lawyer a platform to tell the world that machine guns, grenades, and explosives are "much ado about nothing."

It's hard to imagine such a blasé attitude about an anti-government militia with a cache of weapons if the militia members were Muslims instead of these good ol' boys.
These fellers seem to be the right kind of terrorists. The type we don't need to worry about, and don't need to put on the news. These good terrorists have been no big deal to us for a long time. Did you hear about the abortion clinic bomber recently arrested in Austin TX? Probably not.

Or how about the good terrorist known to have planted a bomb on a Cuban plane that killed over 70 people, you know, the anti-Castro guy that is currently being protected by the US government? An American court determined he can't be sent back to Cuba or Venezuela to stand trial because he might be tortured there.

April 25, 2007

Walmart Spy

The notion that government can be run like a corporation has been so successful, as evidenced by FEMA's work in New Orleans and Haliburton's work in Iraq, that it follows that companies start to assume the powers of governments.

So why shouldn't Walmart have it's own intelligence service? This idea is completely consistent with the fact that Walmart's revenues exceed the GDP of several nations and its market power has profound influence on global trade policy.

If this trend continues (and there's no reason to think it won't) we'll likely see the merging of corporate interests and resources. The US government uses private phone companies to spy on Americans, what would prevent Walmart from striking similar deals with communications companies? This is already widely practiced in the fields of banking, finance, and marketing.

One step beyond might be the synergy offered by tapping the increasing power of private security companies such as Blackwater, whose conservative Christian founder boasts of having 20,000 men at his beck and call.

Local zoning boards and consumer groups have a difficult time stopping Walmart now. Just imagine what it would be like if big box stores exercised their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. The notion of the customer always being right would become as quaint as the Geneva Conventions.

April 21, 2007

Men Who Rage

If you play the audio from Alec Baldwin's voicemail tirade alongside the silent self-portraits of Seung Cho, you get a perfect match. It's a vivid depiction of the rage of men that explodes all over us day to day: the rage of manhood affronted.

I'm sure many can relate to the extreme emotions around divorce and custody battles, but Baldwin's language reveals his own fragile ego that defines his own manhood. He is self-centered and sees himself as the victim of his daughter, the 11 year old "rude little pig."

You have insulted me for the last time … You have humiliated me for the last time … I'm coming just to straighten you out … coming to let you know how...angry I am that you've done this to me … you've made me feel like shit, you've made me feel like a fool over and over again.

Seung Cho blamed the world for his crimes, too:
You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off.

In his column this week, Bob Herbert quoted a former prison psychologist, turned NYU professor:
What I’ve concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal, is that virtually always present, to one degree or another, is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.

This bald display of testoster-rage reminds me of the 1993 Joel Schumacher film, Falling Down, with Michael Douglas. That was the story of a conservative white man, laid-off and divorced, who responds to his really bad day by shooting and killing those who pique his ire in any way. He starts with the Korean grocer who refuses to give him change. George Will called it a "catharsis film," and the producer boasted that after one screening a mass show of anger erupted as incessant horns in a traffic jam, just like in the movie.

In '93, the angry white man was a cultural trend. Clinton had just taken over, and he brought his Congress with him. The people who were into Political Correctness had won, and that put the Conservatives up in arms. We were talking about militias back then, too, gun toting groups of men from Michigan, training for a showdown with overreaching Femi-nazi's.

Some things are similar now, like the decline of the Republican party and the failure of conservatism. If one's ideology totally fails, violence might be a normal reaction. Should we now be expecting a resurgence in testosterone-fueled rage? —You know, like this NASA guy.

ps - Manly danger from the archives - Ahab's Townhouse

Early Encouraging Signs the Surge is Working


Having ushered in the post-spin era, talking points are the refreshing new way to package cynicism and callousness.

When the president's "complete confidence" in the AG is exclaimed from all corners, people everywhere know it's the same complete confidence that Rummy enjoyed until Election Day.

The tactic copied from Madison Avenue is obvious: repeat something enough times and people will start to believe it's true. If they have intellectual pretensions they may say they don't believe it, but somewhere, deep in their hearts, there will be a nagging doubt brought on by having heard the same message over and over. Remember how you felt about WMD during the ramp-up to the war? Don't feel bad. It's child's play, really, like making rats push levers for food pellets.

When crafting the actual sentences involved, it is not necessary for a message to be overt. All that is required is for the message to be unavoidably embedded somewhere in its syntactical  embodiment, like a gemstone waiting to be chiseled out. The White House press corps will diligently parse every syllable, unearthing a diamond from apparent rubble.

The only problem is, this time it isn't working. It's obvious to anyone that, by expressing complete confidence in the AG after such horrendous incompetence and dissembling testimony, the President is either disingenuous or a fool, or most likely, both.

As the chaos and carnage in Baghdad obscure the "early encouraging signs the surge is working," with suicide bombers daily killing scores of innocents, the US is subjected to its own peculiarly homegrown version of mass-murder.

Statistically speaking, we are a nation that believes in God, yet we are reluctant so far to speak of our fallen soldiers as martyrs, preferring to label them "heroes" or "patriots." When our patriots make the ultimate sacrifice, they have done so in the fight for our freedom, which, by the way (in case you haven't heard) is not free. So goes the logic. It's a logic of principle, if not exactly one of reality.


In keeping with this line of reasoning, it might be suitable also to speak of the 32 victims of the Virginia Tech massacre as patriots, for they gave their lives for your right to bear arms. Leave it to the deranged killer to claim the title of martyr, which of course he did.

 The Bill of Rights comes with collateral damage. People are killed every day as a result of one amendment or another. It's just a fact of life, one that affirms the beautiful balance inherit in our Constitution. This is precisely why we take the fight to the terrorists, and fight them over there, so we don't have to face them here, on our soil.  Our soil is reserved for school and workplace shootings.

April 17, 2007

Blood Lust

I love Republicans. They are just so out of touch. And they're so in love with violent mayhem, death and destruction.

But seriously, you 2nd amendment lovers, you NRA members and the pols who love them, give it up, please. Your government is destroying your freedom and civil liberties, but you can't use guns to stop it. Put down your weapons, and take your heads out of your asses.

ps - Sorry to break it to y'all, but the NRA doesn't matter anymore. We American people don't like it when crazy men get guns to kill college kids.

pps - But what would you expect from the guy who invented the Surge? Can't wait to see the responses of the other Republican clowns.

April 15, 2007

Stay the Course, Alberto

It's pretty inevitable that Alberto Gonzales will leave his job, but I want him to stay. Everyday that he's a part of this administration is a day this president looks like a swindling incompetent ass.

The White House attempts to minimize scandal (withholding documents, changing explanations, claiming to accidentally delete emails) just prove to the American people that they are hiding some wicked high crimes. Crimes so high that Bush and his war cabinet are willing to openly obstruct justice to avoid having them come to light.

Karl Rove is another liar I'd rather see keep his job. When these fascists resign from the White House, it will plant the notion that the problem is solved, the bad apple was chucked. The whole issue becomes old news more quickly.

Besides, if Karl Rove resigned, he wouldn't have any trouble finding work. His policy ideas and dirty campaign tactics would still be corrupting our democracy. If he stays at the White House, at least we can keep a better eye on him.

The longer this evil stays in our news bubble, the more damage they do to their own right-wing power-grabbers, the Unitary Executors. The law never fully caught up to Richard Nixon, but he went down in history as an acknowledged crook. George W. Bush may avoid prosecution, as well, but he'll always be known as the least competent president, and probably the scummiest sleazebag in American history.

ps - Keep on keepin' on, buddy - "Gonzales Insists He Did Nothing Wrong"

April 2, 2007

Christo-Fascists Phone It In

Why is it that Cosimo Cavallaro's "My Sweet Lord" (the chocolate Jesus sculpture recently ejected from a group show in New York) seems so unimportant as an issue of freedom of expression? Is it because the piece is so funny, in a way that Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" wasn't? Perhaps it's because the kerfuffle was ultimately good for the artist, who received several offers for the piece, in addition to very memorable publicity.

Or, is it because we are all ready to accept censorship by threat of violence. Death threats are not legitimate protests, but rather intended to create fear in innocent people. This is terrorism, plain and simple. Are we ready to accept it now as a way of life?

Radical Muslims used violence to react to the Muhammad cartoons printed in a Danish newspaper, and now radical Catholics are using violence to quash an artwork. Most notable is just how easy it was for the religious bullies to get their way. The curator resigned, but the street remains silent.

In the eighties, the NEA Four caused a mass movement of artists and a protracted court battle. In the end, however, the government beat those artists. They won their law suit in 1993, but the Supreme Court reversed that victory in 1998 by declaring that Obscenity was a legitimate reason to deny funding. Further, Congress eliminated the NEA's Grants to Individuals Program.

So is that what happened? The bastards just won is all? And to the victor of the war for expression goes the right to silence artists merely by phoning it in?

ps - Apparently, threatening to kill is also effective for intimidating bloggers, too.

April 1, 2007

Flame-out Imminent

Political scandals have their own predictable arcs, like exploding projectiles or episodes of Law and Order. Also, they can be characterized by the Kubler-Ross schema for the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It's all pretty self-evident, except that the role of depression is played by false-humility and the evincing of remorse, and acceptance comes in the form of tendering one's resignation. You can plot scandals along this curve and figure out when the Fates' dreaded shears will snip the thread, spelling the inescapable end.

If you want a text-book example, take a close look at the events that culminated in the resignation of Trent Lott as Senate Majority Leader. Dennis Hastert is a more recent example, though the ultimate perfection of the Cycle was, in his case, somewhat obscured by the larger context of the election that terminated his tenure as Speaker of the House. The Fates, of course, have complete discretion in determining the manner of a person's demise. (Technically, the job falls to Atropos alone, but, as in any close relationship, she probably bounces ideas off her sister Fates.) One detects a taste for irony in such moments.

This brings me to the first of two inevitable flame-outs currently underway: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, currently transitioning from denial to bargaining, as he prepares for his April 17th death march to the Hill.

I've tried hard for months now to try to picture what the moral core of this man might look like. His biography reads like that of a straight arrow: high-school honors student, attended the USAF Academy, Harvard Law School, community service, and so on. Yet his service to then-Governor George Bush is tainted by his perfunctory and biased clemency reviews, and the subsequent rubber-stamping of death penalty sentences. When George answered "none" to the question of how many innocent men were executed by the State of Texas, he was relying on Al's exacting work.

Then of course, even more spectacularly, there is the "torture memo." Another instance of giving the boss exactly what he asked for. Let's leave it at that.

Originally, I was going to call this article "Why I Pine for John Ashcroft," and then wax nostalgic over his quaint efforts to protect Blind Justice's modesty by draping a cloth over her bosom, as well as his intensely patriotic baritone crooning. But in my attempts to understand Mr. Gonzales, I have come to believe the cog that is missing from his machinery of ratiocination creates a void that, much like the nothingness that constitutes a black hole, can so readily gobble-up all known jurisprudence, that anything Ashcroft did or didn't do is almost irrelevant. A lawyer who works to undermine habeas corpus? By the actions you can deduce the deficit and begin to see how a person's flaws can be magnified by their station in life, like inclusions or clouds in gemstones, shortcomings that might otherwise be overlooked become ruinous under the lens that projects personal responsibility onto the giant movie screen of history.

What is a word for people who can't overcome their personal shortcomings and rise to the exceptional demands of momentous duties? "Incompetent," perhaps.

Before he became "America's Mayor", Rudy Giuliani, our other flame-out in progress, was New York's mayor. Consider this: taxi drivers, to a man, called him "Rudy Mussolini Giuliani". This is maybe a case of the converse of Gonzales: here is someone who did overcome his shortcomings, and rose to the occasion in a memorable and inspiring way. But that was during a singular event, and in pre-9/11 New York, Rudy was not regarded with much warmth by Gothamites. Even those who begrudgingly acknowledged his success in matters like keeping trash off the sidewalks would probably not have described him as a likeable guy.

There was also Putin-esque talk of extending his mayoral term as the elections approached, in the immediate aftermath of September 11. Rudy, like Gonzales also a lawyer, seemed to comprehend that the lack of any legal basis for such a usurpation of power might be a bad idea and it was shot down as a trial-balloon.

Be assured that, as the magnifying glass of the presidential primary focuses light on his bristly character, he will begin to smolder and burst into flames. The process is well underway.

Bernie Kerik is going to be an albatross around his neck, for one thing, even Giuliani acknowledges that. And a statement like "I'm going to invite my wife to cabinet meetings" is fissile material waiting to achieve critical mass. The campaign was forced to back-pedal on the issue the following day.

In the end, it will all unfold quickly and dramatically, I am certain. Remember, the last time Rudy faced Hillary? He quit the race because of prostate cancer and it all went down faster than you could snap your fingers. Wonder how his health is these days?

Well, I am taking a chance making my predictions. Whether they prove prescient or foolish doesn't matter much. Because unless you cache this page, I can always revise my opinion.